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.
Fear and desire are the twin engines of human survival but with most of our basic needs met these instincts are being engaged to imprison us in an obsolete fragment of our consciousness.
Russell Brand’s essay is, whether you like it or not, indicative of the current first-world generation: a lot of us mean well, a lot of us care, and a lot of us are conflicted in having to differentiate between what is noble, what is practical, and what is doable.
These words, and those which follow, do not come from a high horse. In criticising the generation to which I have always belonged, I both share and take responsibility for its struggles. The anxieties and the frustrations that we feel are complicated amid an onslaught of technological distraction, one that blatantly attempts to turn your care into carefree, your bother into can’t-be-bothered.
Of course technology, especially in the realm of social media, has played significant roles in events like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, along with its more general ability to increase and maintain a lively discourse. But with that comes this: I am concerned about the people I encounter (or should I say, don’t encounter) every day, those of us who stay connected to our devices and thus our private comforts. If we can go a whole day without acknowledging the presence of a hundred people, what else might we be missing?
This may seem like a ridiculous problem to have to deal with, but in this perception lies the true danger of its subtlety. When older people (and some younger people) complain about the over-presence of technology in our everyday lives, they aren’t regarded seriously for very long. Nothing is. When another comedian, Louis CK, was on Conan and gave a heartfelt speech about it, all the audience could do was laugh. They may have been laughing because they know it is true, but if they allowed themselves to ignore the immediate concepts (‘I am at a comedy show, he is a comedian, and I am here to enjoy myself’), they would’ve felt the actual gravity that was supposed to land. Brand says that ‘serious causes can and must be approached with good humour.’ I agree insofar as humour is concocted and received in that intended lens, and maybe not always then. I believe that Louis CK was operating under that lens, and still the point was largely missed.
While good or ‘serious’ humour can propel a serious cause, cheap humour can keep us at arm’s length from it. In relation to Brand’s opening quote, cheap humour, among many other things, can both come from and lead to fear and desire, the very things Brand says are ‘being engaged to imprison us in an obsolete fragment of our consciousness.’ We are training ourselves to deflect certain unwanted emotions. And not without any help; Brand goes on to say that ‘our materialistic consumer culture relentlessly stimulates our desire. Our media ceaselessly engages our fear…’ Whatever remedies we latch onto in dealing with our fear and desire are also what keeps us uncomfortable with discomfort and distracted with ourselves.
It’s important to remember that, if any sort of personal ‘utopia’ is the ideal for which we each strive, certain instances of discomfort might mean you are actually striving. ‘Our young people,’ Brand says, ‘need to know there is a culture, a strong, broad union, that they can belong to, that is potent, virile, and alive.’ And, let me add, will be met with opposition if we have any business existing. In an age technologically designed to make our lives easier, we are that much quicker to avoid opposition; and if we can’t, we are that much quicker to shrink in front of it.