Monday, 22 December 2014

Taking Russell Brand Seriously

I recently read Russell Brand’s new book Revolution while I was also reviewing politics final essays. Set against the fresh thinking of students, Russell Brand’s book seemed less remarkable than some of his most ardent fans suggest. His writing is a bit confusing and I still wonder if people who are not very interested in politics really would bother persevering with it. 

And yet it is worth persevering with Revolution and I'd recommend it
I can hear the challenges, “As a feminist and a deep democrat, how can I defend Brand? Surely he’s a product of the very systems he criticizes?" “Brand plays the role of the court jester, isn't he just speaking of power in a way that lets off steam but doesn't change or really challenge anything?" "Celebrity rhetoric about individual freedom undermines a vision of democracy for the public good”.

To answer these challenges straight away, yes Revolution often does read in parts like an essay by an indulged celebrity. Yes, the tone can be very white, entitled and privileged. Yes, there is nothing revolutionary in promoting individual freedom at a time when we need new ways to think about our public, collective flourishing. And yes,  I do find Brand’s throw away sexism deeply troubling. For a really angry review which raises important questions see Mike Moynihan in the Daily Beast 

And yet, despite all these weaknesses I also thought there was an important insight and note of compassion in Brand’s book that can be missed by his critics and I appreciated it.

Brand argues that we are addicted to life styles built on economic growth, power, celebrity, consumption, fossil fuels, and the politics of racism and exclusion.  This is a simple, but compelling point. Brand suggests that until we recognise our economic, social and wider political pathologies are the result of our individual and collective addictions and face the problems, we can't achieve real change.

Brand's book is elevated by his insights into the ways we as citizens of developed economies have become addicted to an economics of material growth and how our dysfunctional politics supports this.  It is ironic that it takes celebrity status to help market the book's message. Never the less,  I found Revolution surprisingly thought provoking, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and yes, worth reading.

Bronwyn Hayward

Russell Brand on Revolution Published by Random House 

Further reading to take the ideas introduced by Brand further 
To read more 12 steps of recovery 
On New ways of thinking about Economics: Prosperity without Growth Tim Jackson 
On new ways of thinking about politics as Listening forDemocracy  Andy Dobson 
On inclusive politics Cathy Cohen & Black Youth Projec
On new politics of equality & inclusion hear Chantal Mouffe's recent lecture