Russell Brand and the phantom solution

Russell Brand has inspired more heated political debate in the last couple of weeks than I’ve seen for quite some time. Since the Coalition took power there’s been a permanent underbubbling of discontent, but it’s always been mixes with a sigh of tired resignation, like everybody is on pause until the next general election.

Then Brand – a COMEDIAN! – decided to get all fired and emotional and effusive, vocalising all that discontent in a New Statesman essay and a freewheeling Newsnight interview with Paxman. He seemed to have two main points:

1. Western democracy is entirely broken, only shuffling the same power pieces endlessly rather than offering any meaningful change via voting.

2. As such, voting is an empty exercise and only serves to legitimise a broken, corrupt system designed to serve an elite few. Brand’s conclusion is that we shouldn’t vote at all, and should instead usher in “the revolution”.

I think the second point is short-sighted and misses several points. Perhaps the most important one being that if lots of people don’t vote it gives much more agency to those who DO vote. That’s how chumps like Golden Dawn and the BNP get into positions of power. If all the forward thinking, progressive, lefty, compassionate voters followed Brand’s example we could end up in a very dodgy place indeed.

The frustrating thing is that Brand’s detractors have used the vote issue as a way of dismissing everything he has to say. Which is a shame, as his thoughts on our broken Democratic system are pretty spot on.

There’s also been a resurgence of that old theory that if you don’t have a solution you’re not allowed to point out a problem. Sure, not having a solution definitely reduces the effectiveness of Brand’s overall argument but it doesn’t invalidate his observations. Would it be better if he had an alternative system of governance all worked out and ready to go? Sure. But a person can still make important critical observations without needing to instantly – or ever – provide the fix.

Along the same lines, people dismiss Brand as all talk and no action, ignoring his work to combat drug addiction and his presence at the Anonymous Million Mask March. Simply by talking and airing his thoughts Brand has inspired a ton of debate among the voting (and non-voting, presumably) public. That in itself can be considered a form of action. The more people like Brand point out the flaws in our democracies, the more likely it is that others may step up to fix them.

Telling people not to vote is pretty silly, though.

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