Monday, October 28, 2013

Russell Brand, Revolution, and Some Real Talk

It was an evening like any other. My wife and I had just finished putting our kids to sleep and we were settling down to watch some TV. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon this gem.

Anyone who has read my previous post on upgrading our government will probably know where I stand on the matter. I completely agree with Brand's laundry list of evils. Democracy has indeed been hijacked by big industry and politicians, whether willingly or not, have become their tools. The electoral process is farcical. Meanwhile the people have become disillusioned. About 50% of the population abstains from voting altogether. The rest continue to participate despite knowing that their votes mean nothing. They vote for the politician who makes the most appealing promises and when that politician steps into office and breaks those promises, they hardly blink.

When corruption and scandal become the norm, we know we have a problem on our hands.

Like Brand, I have never voted. Like Brand, my abstinence came from disillusionment, not ignorance. I've defended my stance of political abstinence many times before and sadly, the discourse always ends with the same, tired argument: "If you don't vote, you can't complain." My interpretation of this final argument is this: people only vote so they have the right to complain and gripe.

What a democracy!

At one point during the interview, Brand implored people to abstain from voting as a matter of principle. I once supported this type of political boycott  but as it turns out, I was terribly wrong.


Brand wants a revolution. Historically, this happens when people rise up and overthrow the ruling class. This type of uprising is violent and turbulent; more often than not, it cripples a functional nation. Is this the kind of revolution we want? Or is this the revolution of a crude, unrefined people? A desperate people without alternatives?

Aside from the potential for violence and anarchy, this type of revolution poses some serious logistical problems. Suppose we marched down to the parliament and demanded the resignation of our local politicians. In all likelihood, we would be choking on tear-gas within moments of our arrival, but say our politicians are surprisingly cooperative. Say they abandon their posts willingly, handing complete power over to us.

What now? I certainly don't know how to run a municipality let alone a nation. I wouldn't even know where to start. Should we hold an election to fill the vacant positions left behind? If so, won't we face the same issues of corruption as before? It's the system that corrupts politicians, not the other way around. I might promise widespread democratic reforms if elected, but once I get in power there is no guarantee I'll follow through.

The irrational mind--the one that takes over when we're overcome by powerful emotions, emotions like outrage over endless political scandals--seeks the most direct resolution. Unfortunately, the most direct resolution is rarely the correct one. More often than not, these "quick fixes" lack forethought or in-depth analysis. Brand's revolution, no matter the shape it holds in his wishful thoughts, is such a resolution. "Don't like the politicians? Let's overthrow them! Don't like the system? Abstain from taking part in it!" Do these sound like rational solutions?

As I said, I agree with Brand's assessment of the situation. His solution, on the other hand, is vague, short-sighted, and dangerous.

If we truly want change while avoiding violence and unrest, our revolution must be a peaceful one. But wait: is such a thing possible? Isn't "peaceful revolution" an oxymoron? In the past, physical violence was the primary resource of the revolutionary, but no longer.

Big industry was able to find loopholes within our political system and use those loopholes to hijack our democracy. They did not march into parliament with loaded guns and demand power: they used their resources--money, connections--to exploit flaws in our outdated system. There was no bloodshed, no violence. It was a gradual conquest which is only now becoming apparent to the masses. 

Big industry has its resources, and we have ours. The occupy movement gave us a name and it is apt. We are the 99% and ours is the vast majority within a democracy. No matter that this democracy is corrupt and dysfunctional; so long as we work together, the 1% cannot stop us.

We don't need a bloody revolution; we need a crowd-funded one.

And that means working within the confines of the system, not outside of it. Rather than abstain from voting, what we need is a coherent, united movement with a transparent agenda and as much support from the 99% as possible. This means working with people of divergent ideological stances--uniting liberals and conservatives, atheists and theists, and so on--to topple those at the top of our political apparatus. If money is the resource of the 1% then voting is the resource of the 99%. With enough votes, we can literally reshape our government, restructure our democracy, and finally give voice to those who have felt voiceless for far too long.

(PS. On Friday I'll delve into what such a movement might resemble, how modern inventions/innovations like Facebook, Kickstarter, and reality television can help us design a more functional democracy, and whatever else I can cram into 1,000 words. Oh yeah and here's the Russell Brand interview, in case you missed it. /rant over)



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