In this edition of Urchins Take Sides, we discuss Russell Brand’s essay on revolution in the latest edition of the New Statesman. Please feel free to take a side in the comments section below.
Russell Brand says many intelligent things in his New Statesman essay on revolution. He also says one that is dangerously counterproductive: he doesn’t vote. According to Brand, voting is a “tacit act of compliance” with the current political system.
While I agree with Brand’s assertion that we are in need a “total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system,” rather than a newly elected official or government measure, it cannot be ignored that the current political system is deeply entrenched. We cannot afford to put off action until such a revolution occurs.
Voting absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, contributes to outcomes that affect our everyday lives. Because the people of Illinois voted to elect certain politicians, and contacted those politicians regarding their political and social views, Illinois is set to become the 15th state to legalise same sex marriage. While our system of government is certainly flawed, it also works. While voting may demonstrate compliance with a flawed system, not voting makes one complicit in everything that occurs with which you don’t agree.
That is not to say that effort should not be made to fix the system, or even create a completely new one. However, until an amended or new system is under way, it is essential to remain a participatory member of society. Brand admits that “apathy is the biggest obstacle to change,” yet his soundbite about not voting simply validates those experiencing the rampant apathy he addresses.
While it would certainly be a worthwhile endeavor to imagine totally new political, social, and economic systems, perhaps the best way to begin initiating real change is via the current systems. For example, what if rather than joining a massive, and ultimately futile, demonstration, millions of people spoke out and began campaigning for specific change in legislation. Don’t like big business influence in government? Get a law passed prohibiting it. Similarly, if you don’t like certain companies having all of the wealth and power, boycott them en masse.
Essential to such action, however, would be Brand’s proclamation that “consciousness itself must change.” It is difficult for people to band together for a greater good when they are evolutionarily programmed to be selfish. The self-centered individualism of our current culture may quite literally be humanity’s fatal flaw.
Our planet may have already decided that, like an infected limb must be amputated to save the body, humans are coming due for a mass extinction. It can no longer sustain our destructive behaviour. Sure, we could try to band together now to prevent such a fate, but with everyone only looking out for number one, what is the likelihood of successful and productive cooperation? Can humans overcome their inherently selfish motives to save the species? Its habitat?
That neither the Occupy Movement nor the 2011 London riots had declared demands demonstrates just how massive and intangible actual, large-scale change seems to most people. That even those so moved by their disenchantment with the current system as to riot and protest couldn’t tell you what they’d change or how demonstrates how entrenched and extensive the corruptions and failures are.
There are, however, real, specific things that need to change, and by focusing on each in turn, change will come about. Before you know it, we will live in a different world. When I first began to study and understand the world’s myriad injustices at university, I was overwhelmed by a desire to remedy them all immediately. I remember asking my aunt how I could possibly ever affect change. She told me that it is essential to concentrate your passion and energy on a few issues, rather than trying to contribute to every cause piecemeal.
There doesn’t need to be one massive revolution. As Brand suggests, a spiritual revolution of consciousness begins at the individual level. Once an individual has succeeded in revolutionising their thought, they can begin to revolutionise their world, which will in turn revolutionise the worlds of others. If people focus their energies on the things that move them, the world could be filled with hundreds of small revolutions whose sum will be new political, social, and economic systems.