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Brand vs. Paxman

Without regard to his celebrity status, I've enjoyed several of Russell Brand's interviews in the past. I see him as a switched-on guy with some admirable ideologies which he's skilled at articulating. His recent Newsnight appearance with Jeremy Paxman was no exception, where I found he responded aptly to Paxman's interrogation on his political position.

I'm surprised to see how polarised the reaction to this interview has been - with one side epitomised by a dismissive Robin Lustig article currently making the rounds, which heavily criticises his appearance. In my opinion, the article misses the mark on several occassions, such as the strawman misinterpretation of the message he's trying to convey:

The core of his message is: "I will never vote and I don't think you should, either."

I believe it unlikely that Brand appeared on the interview with even the intent of advocating against voting, but Paxman kept returning to his voting status (under the tired pretense that voting is the unquestionable way to address problems), so Brand needed to rebut by making it clear how insignificant he felt the vote is in the big picture - acting as simply a facade to placate the masses with the belief they hold power.

Another of Lustig's criticisms is that Brand didn't present concrete plans for a superior political system. I find the notion baffling that someone can't criticise a system or highlight problems without having, as Brand puts it, a "global utopian system" on the cards. If people were able to address the problems Brand highlights without ridicule and heavy criticism, that would be the first step to coming up with solutions.

I won't address the article any further, as it's predictably a large ad hominem attack on Brand, which of course has nothing to do with the points put forwardin the interview. He'd be the first to admit that he's highly flawed, doesn't have all the answers, and is only bringing thoughts to the public consciousness. Instead, I will expand a little on my interpretation of the problems that he touches on regarding the current paradigm, and explain why I believe his points have a lot of merit.

Through my own independent research, I have to agree with Brand that many of the biggest issues facing humanity today (*even bigger than Obamacare*), such as destruction of the planet1, war2, and exploitation of the poor, can be shown to be caused almost exclusively by the corporate elite, and their untouchable status, which they routinely exploit to gain even more power.

The first facilitator of this is how unregulated multi-national corporations are. To be competitive in the current free market, it inevitably deteriorates to a race of who can exploit labour and earth's resources the highest degree, leading to the most competitive pricing once goods reach the market. There's no corporate incentive to innovate on sustainability - the current green taxes, for example, are laughable. Solving this doesn't require an elaborate communist regime; simply enough regulation that corporations' externalities become reflected in their profits, rather than being passed on to society. Unfortunately, the current political system is far too currupt for this change to happen - corporations which hold the world's money (and therefore, via capitalism, power) are too closely intertwined with the entire political system34.

Another falicitator is the current societal paradigm. It is considered normal for one to go through their life without questioning the status quo, believing that their only right to encouraging change is via the small parameter of voting for a political party, leaving them ultimately ignorant and apathetic to big issues that span outside of this limited system.

The current nature of society as a whole is staggeringly materialistic, where it's typical for one to judge their personal value by the possessions and assets they own, and blindly accept the fact that they should trade away 9am-5pm for 40 years of their life so they can satisfy their consumerist desires. An obvious initial cause of this is the conditioning people have hammered into their head from infancy by the billion-dollar advertising industry5.

Unethical corporations would be powerless without thousands of employees, but of course in their underpowered position in the corporate hierarchy, employees are "just doing their job", and "certainly wouldn't want to upset their boss and risk losing it in such a competitive climate!" This manipulation of fear effectively keeps the bargaining power very one-sided, as any employer knows they don't have to worry about losing an employee, as any gap will be consequently sought after by hundreds of applicants.

Many corporations also wouldn't be anything without the millions of consumers who crave their products - if the masses weren't so far removed from, and really understood, the consequences of their purchases, they may think differently.

That sort of information is difficult to disseminate when the majority of media outlets are, again, controlled by those in power67. Of course the Internet is a great tool to counter this, but look at the ongoing government efforts to censor and surveil free speech online, such as PRISM, for an indication that corporation-controlled mass media may still have a long life ahead.

The above points are, in my opinion, the kind of topics Brand was actually trying to address, in the face of repeated side-tracking on non-issues like which party he voted for. Confronting these issues could indeed have a large positive impact on the problems the world faces today, none of which we'll even scratch the surface of by voting in elections.

Spreading mass awareness of these problems, encouraging more open-minded thinking, and directly addressing the way the government, corporate elites, and so on operate is our best hope of making a difference.

  1. "The world’s best scientists agree: On our current path, global warming is irreversible—and getting worse", Eric Holthaus, Quartz, September 27, 2013.

  2. "Baghdad Year Zero", Naomi Klein, Harper's Magazine, September, 2004.

  3. "Koch Pledge Tied to Congressional Inaction", Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, July 1, 2013.

  4. "Why Are Some States Trying to Ban LEED Green Building Standards?", Emily Badger, The Atlantic Cities, August 28, 2013.

  5. "Basic Training", an excerpt from The Corporation, 2007.

  6. "These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America", Ashley Lutz, Business Insider, June 14, 2012.

  7. "Unsettling Accounts", an excerpt from The Corporation, 2007.