Riding on Russell Brand’s Coattails

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to write this blog, for the reasons stated on the home page. I just couldn’t, however, find that one blog subject that would let me launch in the manner I wanted to. Warning! This is what one might call a “Wall’o’Text.” It’s long. There is much in it to read, to absorb, and to make your own statements about. Because, folk, I found that first blog subject.

Enter Russell Brand, and his interview with Jeremy Paxson (23 October 2013) [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YR4CseY9pk]. If you must see the full interview, here’s that link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGxFJ5nL9gg.

I’m aware of Russell Brand – that sexy, funny, irreverent actor that people like to underestimate, all while he’s smiling and posting his earnings in the bank. I’d be dishonest if I said that I’ve thought more of him than simply – he’s an actor. He’s a comedien. I like his style. Then, he opens his mouth to debate and dialogue with Jeremy Paxson, and I’m absolutely blown away. Without doubt, in my opinion, we have allowed into our homes one of the most gifted, passionate, and eloquent speakers I’ve heard in quite a while. Interestingly, the Paxson interview was Jeremy’s attempt to put Mr. Brand on the spot, to call him out for stepping above his station, to reduce him, I believe, back to that “actor/comedien” who should know and maintain his place. Fortunately, Mr. Brand was not only able to meet that challenge, but to rise above it in a way that didn’t cast aspersions back on Mr. Paxson, but rather reflected a simple statement of “I am, and what I am is not contingent on what you believe I am/should be/can not be.” Brilliant, bravo!

Further, Mr. Brand made many statements I think we should pay attention to, and explore in greater depth. Since this is my blog, and that’s what I wish to do – that is exactly what I shall do. Note: In order to get the full story, I urge you to watch one or both of the above clips. When I refer to statements, I am referring exclusively to the first link, above.

Mr. Paxson poked Russell a couple of times on issues of “Authority.” At 02:27 into the interview, after Jeremy asked him “How do you have any authority to talk about politics, then?” Russell responded with the following: “Well I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people; I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.” Later, at 10:22 into the interview, Russell stated: “So if we can engage that feeling, instead of some moment of lachrymose sentimentality, trot it out on the TV for people to pore over, emotional porn – If we can engage that feeling, and change things, why wouldn’t we? Why is that naive? Why is that not my right because I’m an actor. I mean, I’ve taken the right. I don’t need the right from you. I don’t need the right from anybody. I’m taking it.”

What is he saying, here? Aside from the engagement of feeling, what Russell Brand is stating is his right to personal empowerment. I would venture to also say, his responsibility to be personally empowered, to not rely on the thoughts, systems, or determinations of people around him. He’s moved away from the feel-good statement of “You have value because you should have value” to saying, “I have value because I have determined, for myself, that I have value.” Is this not something that is within the grasp of each of us? Is it not, furthermore, the responsibility of each of us to make this determination, and be able to stand on this statement? I believe it is. However, saying it is and achieving it are two separate things, and issues for a later blog. Suffice it to say, Russell Brand made this declaration, he made it in a manner that left it unassailable, and he gives the appearance of saying “No big, mate! This is what is, regardless of anything else!” Simple. Kudos, oh, so many kudos for this, Mr. Brand!

During the interview, Jeremy many times tried to shake Russell’s conviction that his way is the correct way; he tried, vainly, to build support for the traditional belief that we should all work within the currently-existing paradigm to try to enact change. For instance, regarding who Russell Brand was, and making a link that should define who he is now, this relegating him to his “proper” place, Jeremy Paxson said at 02:27, “So you’re blaming the political class for the fact that you had a drug problem?” Russell responded with the following: “No, no no, I’m saying, that I was part of the social and economic class that is underserved by the current political system, and drug addiction is one of the problems it creates when you have the huge, underserved, impoverished populations; people get drug problems, and also don’t feel like they want to engage with the current political system because they see that it doesn’t work for them. They see that it makes no difference. They see that they’re not served.” Whoa. Is this truth? Ha, take any Social Sciences 101 class, and you’ll see that an underclass is always extant; and that many social problems, including drunkenness or drug abuse, are also always extant. Government policies which once paid people more money to stay at home and pop out children than they could make by getting a job have created an enormous population increase of just these people. And we have the audacity to wonder what’s wrong with our country?

At 01:08 Jeremy Paxson states, in response to his own question re: “How do you think these people get power?” “They get power by being voted in.” Then, at 02:53 – again, Mr. Paxson is trying to state that we must work within the currently-existing system to enact change, says: “Of course it doesn’t work for them, if they don’t bother to vote!” I have to say, I loved Russell’s response – and the look on Jeremy’s face as he delivered it was priceless, too! “Jeremy, my darling, I’m not saying that … the apathy doesn’t come from us the people, the apathy comes from the politicians – they are apathetic to our needs, they’re only interested in servicing the needs of corporations.” Russell clearly pointed out the problem that absolutely does exist – the currently-existing system works to keep itself in power. I’ll discuss, at some point in the future, the reality of push-pull systems – what’s given, what’s taken, and what’s all a bargain. However, two things I do wish to point out with these two statements:

  • Our vote, actually, does not matter. How many elections have we watched where the “popular vote” was overridden and ignored by the electoral college? Given the fact that a popular vote can be obliviated by this body of know-better-than-you politicians, what truly is the common American’s impetus to cast a vote?
  • If we are governed by people who work for themselves, rather than – as was originally intended, a governing body of the people, by the people, and for the people – why should we try? What is our motivation to attempt to better ourselves, and those around us, when we are greeted by the very people who are supposed to be watching out for our needs with this level and degree of apathy? As Russell Brand stated, at 00:57, “The burden of proof is on the people with the power …”

At 08:09, Mr. Brand stated “Within the existing paradigm, the changes are not dramatic enough. Not radical enough. So you can well understand public disturbances and public dissatisfaction when there are not genuine changes, and genuine alternatives being offered. I say when there is a genuine alternative, and a genuine option, then vote for that.” How many of us have longed, longed for that genuine alternative? I loved Jeremy’s attempt, yet again, to defend the status quo, at 07:10, and Russell’s response: “It’s possible as human beings they’re simply overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.” Mr. Brand stated, “Not really … well, possibly, it might be that, but that’s just sort of semantics really, whether they’re overwhelmed by it, or tacitly maintaining it …” He doesn’t give our current system high marks for caring about their people; rather, he shows them as many of us believe they are – holding on to a power system that works for them, that keeps them the “Big Dogs” while keeping everyone beneath them in a reduced state. At 08:30, Jeremy said “… By the time somebody comes along you might think worth voting for, it may be too late.” Russell’s response was, again, eloquent, and on-target: “I don’t think so, because the time is now, this movement’s already occurring, it’s happening everywhere, where a ton of communication is instantaneous and there are communities all over the world – The Occupy movement made a difference, even if only in that it introduced to the public lexicon the idea of the 1% versus the 99%. People for the first time, in a generation, are aware of massive corporate and economic exploitation. These things are not nonsense, and these subjects are not being addressed. No one’s doing anything about tax havens. No one’s doing about their political affiliations and financial affiliations of the conservative party. Until people start addressing things that are actually real, why wouldn’t I be facetious? Why would I take it seriously? Why would I encourage a constituency of young people that are absolutely indifferent, to vote?” Thank you, Russell, for speaking for us! I would keep you our spokesman and representative for this alone … except there are some things you believe that I am not entirely on-board with. More on them later!

I’ve long been a subscriber to the belief, myself, that if you want to change the system, you must work within the system to bring about that change. Mr. Brand’s statements have caused me to sharply reconsider that stance. Why? Because while I’ve given mouth-service to the belief that “If you don’t vote, you have no right to criticize,” I’ve also, in the last several elections, found myself unable to vote. Put simply, as Jerry Garcia stated, “Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.” The last several American elections have been, for me, a situation where I would be forced to choose what I saw as the “lesser” of two evils. I have been presented with politicians who make promises I know they won’t keep, where one says this that I like, but so much more I dislike; the other says this that I dislike, and all this other that I dislike even more! What’s a simple person, like me, to do?

What can we do, what are our options as Joe and Josephine Anybody, 101 Anywhere Street, Common-Man-America, 01010? Russell has some ideas on this, as well. Again, some I’m not entirely in agreement with, as I’ll explain. Some, again however, I absolutely think are completely on-target.

A system, so says Russell Brand, should have don’ts. Things it shouldn’t do. At 00:49, he says “But here’s the things you shouldn’t do: [ticking off on fingers] Shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.” Well, what we have now has all these elements, and I don’t know if there’s any more poignant statement of defeat than this. Incidentally, I’m not a “Greenie” or a “Tree Hugger” or any of that ilk. I do, however, believe that we have a responsibility to ourselves, and to future generations, to start being far better caretakers of our home than we’ve been thus far.

At 03:53 an interesting couple of statements were made. Jeremy opened by saying “I’m not having a go at you because you want a revolution, many people want a revolution. But I’m asking you what it would be like?” Russell responded with the following – again, a don’t, which he then expanded on: “Well, I think what it won’t be like is a huge disparity between rich and poor, where 300 Americans have the same amount of wealth as the 85 bill-million poorest Americans, where there is an exploited and underserved underclass that are being continually ignored; where welfare is slashed, while Cameron and Osborne go to court to defend the right of bankers to continue receiving their bonuses.” At 4:25 Jeremy was still pushing Russell to define his vision of what should be: “You talk vaguely about revolution – what’s the scheme? What is it?” Russell responded with the following: “I think a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth. Heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies that are exploiting the environment. And I think they should be ta … I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron says profit isn’t a dirty word, I say that profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit there is also deficit, and this system currently doesn’t address these ideas.”

Here’s where I ran into a couple of problems. I both liked and disliked his statement – in order to see why, I’ll break it apart.

  • A Socialist Egalitarian System
    Let’s define these two words, first. Both definitions, for ease of reference, come from the Merriam-Webster dictionary (merriam-webster.com).

    • Socialism – A way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies
    • Egalitarianism – A social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people

Why are these, in my opinion, “bad”? Well, for Socialism, you’re saying replace a drive for personal success with one where nothing can be achieved beyond a mundane existence by the common person. Everyone will be either in the government, thus a part of the “ruling elite,” or they will be subject to the whims of said government. I absolutely do not believe that we can seek out personal success in such an environment. Then, you add in to it a “removal of the inequalities among people.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but inequalities exist. Someone who has a 210 IQ (and don’t get me started on the IQ topic!) will always have a greater ability to learn than someone with a 120 IQ. This is fact. Someone who has a natural talent toward writing will always have an advantage over someone who struggles with reading and writing comprehension. I absolutely do not believe that an artificial removal of inequalities is the answer. So what do I think is the answer? Exactly what I pointed out above – an inherent recognition that what we are is what we are, regardless of what we are told we should be. Under the system promoted by Russell, I do not believe it would be possible for him to have become the famed person he is. He would have been castigated for operating outside the norm; his talents, his brilliance, would either have been co-opted by this governmental body to keep him quiet, or he would have been quieted in other ways, and we would have lost the innate self-inspired brilliance that I do believe currently marks him as separate, and inequal, to many of his fellow humans.

  • Massive redistribution of wealth
    Real-life example: Through a horrible legal decree, I lost custody of my two children following a divorce. Not only did I lose custody, however, I also lost all rights to visitation in any form, while still being nailed with the legal responsibilities and obligations. Why did I lose this battle, to this degree? Because after the divorce, I could not afford an attorney, while my ex-husband could. At this time I was 25 years old; I’d never lived on my own, managed my own finances, nothing. I was, put simply, struggling. A time of homelessness was followed by a period of working three jobs, saving money to become a “good mom” again, to earn the right to be in my childrens’ lives. During this time, since I was single, I was taxed at a rate of about 37%. What does this mean? This means that the government decided, for me, how much of my hard-won and hard-earned wages should be redistributed for other things – things like infrastructure maintenance. And programs to “feed the hungry” who weren’t working three jobs. And programs to provide medical care for people who’d never saved toward their own retired expenses. And so on. Does this sound harsh, my opinion? Sure it does. But the truth is that beyond infrastructure, what a person earns should never, ever be taken from their hands and arbitrarily given to others. Why? If I wish to give, it is my right, my responsibility, and my privilege to decide to whom I will give. In a nutshell. At the point you take my money and tell me I have to reduce the amount sent to my own children, to care for others’ children, I have a problem. Let’s take it a step further, though. Let’s assume that I write that great novel that sells billions of copies, and I become massively wealthy from this. Are you truly going to tell me you, or anyone else, has the inherent right to take any of that money away from me, and determine how it’ll be spread around? Again, I have a problem with that. Mr. Brand, are you telling me you honestly believe the government – any government – has the right to take a portion of your earnings, which you have worked for, and decide arbitrarily they should go to this person, over that person, over any person or cause you would willingly choose to support? Think about it.
  • Heavy taxation of corporations
    From Dailycaller.com (http://dailycaller.com/2012/10/01/study-high-us-corporate-tax-rate-hinders-growth-drives-jobs-overseas/) An analysis by the Cato Institute ranks the United States fourth among 90 countries for the highest corporate tax rate. The overall rate of 35.6 percent “is almost twice the average rate for the 90 countries studied, and it is also the highest rate among the major industrial nations,” the study says. “These results underscore the need for U.S. policymakers to tackle corporate tax reform.”Put simply, we can rail about the “tax havens” sought out by companies – and justifiably, in my opinion, we can also rail about the “profit-over-everything” mentality that is currently enjoyed by most corporations – but we can not deny the fact that higher taxes will, absolutely, drive corporations to find escape. After all, if you’re in the business of making money … well, that’s your goal, right? What do I see as a viable alternative? We should begin making tax concessions to companies who close up their overseas operations and bring jobs back to the states. Any economist will tell you a society must have a happy, healthy, and productive middle-class in order to be successful. Currently, we do not have that. What we have is a very small upper-class and a ginormous lower class who don’t have money to spend. Offer companies tax breaks for bringing their operations – and jobs! – back home. Will there still be abuse? Of course. History has shown that any society is rife with abuse. But allow people to make their voices heard by 1) having a buck to spend and 2) having a choice as to where to spend their buck. As things exist, this is impossible; most of us barely have the means to survive, paycheck to paycheck, because we’re struggling to find jobs which just don’t exist – because our companies and corporations have set themselves up overseas. In addition, I believe a higher tax burden should be placed on companies which are based in the States and yet have their operations overseas.
  • Massive responsibility for energy companies and any energy companies that are exploiting the environment
    I’m actually in agreement with this – but I’d expand it to be also inclusive of companies, in general, that are exploiting the current people and policies of our nation. It’s all tied up together – if we don’t have the ability to protect and care for our home, we likely also don’t have the ability to protect and care for ourselves. Or, conversely, if caring for ourselves is such a struggle that it overrides any other concern, why will we care about our environment? I believe change begins at the bottom, not the top. As we know, the fat cats are happy. It’s the rest of us, who are scrabbling by our fingernails to hold on to some semblance of normalcy, that will eventually stand up and say “That’s it. Enough. I’m done.”
  • Very concept of profit should be reduced
    This, I disagree with. Perhaps we can rewrite the concept. But the heart of humanity is, as with all other animals – “What’s in it for me?” Many would like to argue that altruism exists. I say it doesn’t. I say, anything we do up to and including taking care of our neighbor is for selfish reasons. I say that we derive pleasure, or satisfaction, or a sense of self-worth out of what we choose to do, and what we choose not to do. I say that attempting to abolish this, rather than working within it to bring about change, is attempting to rewrite human nature, rather than helping our inherent nature work for us, and bring about positive change for ourselves, and for those around us.

Naturally, all of the above are just one person’s views – and should be taken as such. In other words? Barely worth the electronic medium they’re written on.

At 05:08, in response to Jeremy’s prodding about how administrators for a changed government should be chosen, and what this body should be called, the following conversation took place: “Jeremy, don’t ask me to sit here, in an interview with you, in a bloody hotel room, and devise a global Utopian system. I’m merely pointing out that the current … (interrupted by Jeremy Paxson at 05:16)

05:16 Jeremy Paxson “You are calling for a revolution!”

Brand 05:18 “Yes. Absolutely. Abso … I’m calling for change. I’m calling for genuine alternatives.”

Why would we not be frustrated? Why would we not wish a change? Why wouldn’t frustration lead, in so many, to anger, to a sense of futility that drives rage?

I believe we must seek alternatives. I believe that we must strive to break down our current system, then say, “Ok. How can we rebuild this so it’s better, so it’s viable, so it’s realistic, so it reaches the people it’s being designed for?” But further – how can we create a system that will catch its own errors? Our system is full of errors – two parties with exclusion of anyone else. A “ruling class” that lives separate from those it’s purported to stand for. A government that continues to grow, never dissolving or removing portions of itself that are no longer functional. And so on, and so on. As Russell said, at 06:47, “…there are people with alternative ideas that are far better qualified than I am, and far better qualified, more importantly, than the people that are currently doing that job …” I think we need to be seeking out these people, hearing their voices, actually listening when they say, “This can’t work.” We need to find them and ask them their opinions on what can be changed to make it work.

Russell spoke (statement at 08:35) of the young people; however, you don’t have to be young to be disillusioned, to be disenfranchised. I remember, in about the first grade, teachers making pronouncements of doom about how we were going to become a society that would have no middle class. I recall, distinctly, wondering why this should matter to me? And I recall, with complete detail, watching it happen. Watching homes across the nation be lost because people lost their jobs, and couldn’t find replacements. I’ve seen it happen, not been born in the aftermath. I want change. I want hope for the future, for my children. I want to find a way to build the answers, to go forward with a vision that enriches my life – and your life, and the lives of those around us.

At 09:50, Jeremy asks, “Do you see any hope?” Russell responded with the following: “Oh yeah, totally, there’s gonna be a revolution, it’s totally going to happen. I ain’t got a flicker of doubt, this is the end. This is time to wake up.” I don’t know if we have any choice, any more, but to wake up. But we do have a choice on the paths we take to bring about change. And we have a responsibility to be heard, to speak, to shout, to sing, and to say “I am.”