Russell Brand has had a lot to say over the last few days about just how fucking broken society, politics and pretty much everything is at the moment. Of course, him editing Slate and using it as a platform to say this sort of thing has run into a bit of criticism with people simply not taking him seriously because he’s a comedian with a decidedly un-posh accent, a history of drug-taking. Worse, perhaps, those outside the political mainstream, on the activist end, are far more concerned with the fact he once asked a woman to show him her breasts than anything practical or useful he might be saying.
Brand is, then, caught between a rock and a hard place. Undeniably intelligent, ‘surprisingly’ articulate and very switched on to the problems facing the world at the moment he is not the ‘suit and tie’ type and thus cannot be taken seriously by the establishment. Equally he can’t be taken seriously by grizzled activists, despite his declared appreciation for the Occupy movement because of things he’s done in his past.
That ended up being the problem with Occupy though, didn’t it? It turned on itself. It was a loose alliance at the best of times and while it originally tapped into a rich undercurrent of seething dissatisfaction amongst the 99%, students and so on, it eventually ended up getting ‘taken over’, at least in the public eye by black-bloc anarchists and progressive radicals for whom ‘being insufficiently radical’ was the worst possible crime imaginable.
So where are we then? What can we do? What might such a revolution look like?
Where we are?
Where we are is staring down the barrel of multiple crises, all of which require hard decisions to be made for the future. Hard decisions that governments will not make for fear of being unpopular – instead they prefer to make other unpopular decisions that line their own pockets and those of their friends.
There’s climate change, already wreaking havoc and feeding into global weather systems in a way that both makes the weather more extreme and provides deniers with excuses: “But snow!” Sea levels are rising and micro-nations on islands and atolls already have to deal with it more directly than the occasional hurricane striking a wealthy country.
There’s wealth disparity. To a ludicrous amount. To an amount not seen since The Great Depression only without the same sort of social and political upheaval that took place then (and perhaps that’s a good thing looking at the events of the 1940s). Life for this and the next generation is going to get worse, not better, for the first time in a very long time. People are going to be poorer than their parents and the hard-won resources that past generations have managed to scrape together (a bit of land, a flat, a house) are going to have to be sold off to cover day-to-day costs and loans. Then there’ll be nothing left.
We’re facing a population crisis of huge proportions. Globally there are too many people and in developing nations this is likely to carry on for some time. In developed nations the other problem is true, declining birth rates and an ageing population are conspiring to create a huge problem as the baby boomers retire, live longer, draw more on the state and have less people to replace them and earn money. The only solution to this is to fuck more (provided babies result, but hey, fucking more couldn’t hurt anyway) or to encourage immigration. Something that existing residents in first world countries don’t like – for a variety of reasons. The population crisis also weighs heavy on the environment, food and numerous other issues already under pressure through climate change.
The energy crisis is another huge problem. Oil and gas are running out and only set to get more and more expensive. The exploitation of shale reserves and resorting to fracking. Nuclear is being given the go ahead but this is only delaying the problem with the added drawback of masses of radioactive material to deal with. Fusion is the main hope for the future but it is proving hideously difficult and hideously expensive to get to work. If it can be made to work it is a hugely high-tech solution to the problem that is likely to be exploited and capitalised on by whatever country cracks it, rather than making it a gift to the world.
We have a political system that in most parts of the world is too fixated on short term election-winning to deal with serious issues. A political system that is utterly corrupted by money and influence and no longer serves the people. Institutions that have meant the world to the British public have been under steady attack since the 1980s and now the NHS is on the chopping block. There is nothing sacred to the financial forces which are even more short-sighted than the governments and which control them.
Our media is fragmented and uninformative. The main news outlets are now opinion outlets, because it is much more commercial to present ‘a news’ rather than ‘The News’. Even the BBC has lost its way here, in part due to pursuit of market share and in part due to various scandals and reconfigurations that have left the institution rather vulnerable, should they decide not to play ball politically. The internet has lots of news sources, but much of it isn’t very well researched and people aggregate towards ‘news’ that supports their existing point of view. Little wonder then that conspiracy theories abound, spread and that dangerous information like the supposed link between autism and vaccination gets a grip on society.
What can we do?
None of these problems are actually insurmountable. What’s missing is only the will, the acknowledgement that we have these problems and the funding and knowledge to tackle them. Ideas already exist for many of them from geo-engineering to proper recycling, wind, wave and solar power with a proper roll-out, electric vehicles, biofuels that don’t use farmland, GM crops for higher yields without fertiliser. Everything gets opposition though, often from the very people who would benefit most.
Something has to change and political parties battling over the middle ground and favours from companies isn’t going to do it. We need to break the Eton stranglehold and increase diversity in Parliament and the Lords (if we even keep it at all). Unlike Russell I think we should still vote – if only to lessen the harm while we look to improve or replace the system that we have. If nothing else we can mitigate some of the damage and buy some time.
Apathy on the part of ‘the voters’ (or rather, those that don’t) carries part of the blame here. Voting reform and Lords reform have been on the table and neither have gone through. In the case of electoral reform the great British public voted against it. Against more of their votes counting, against a more representative parliament. This either indicates apathy to the point of self-harm or a British public so utterly disinterested and ill-informed that they vote directly, even outside parliamentary elections, against their own interests.
Single issues aren’t going to do it, ‘revolutionary purity’ is counterproductive. What is, or may, be productive would be radical pragmatism and intelligence lead politics. We’re all familiar with all those committees and experts who are consulted by government and then utterly ignored. This has been most obvious in the case of drug policy, but it’s found everywhere. Somehow the idea of educating and convincing the public of the worthwhile nature of a policy has gone in exchange for pandering to prejudices and squabbling over the middle.
The most radical thing we could do, is to apply what we actually know.
What might a revolution look like?
I’m hopeful, but I don’t see it happening at all. A pessimist can, after all, only ever have a nice surprise.
Violent revolution isn’t going to happen, any state it did happen in would become a pariah state. Protests don’t seem to accomplish anything in the West, at least nothing significant. The internet comes under greater and greater control. In the States people are actually working against getting a tiny bit better healthcare.
Politics doesn’t work, in the US and UK because people’s votes simply can’t be seen to make a difference.
There’s nowhere for us to go and to found a new society and the sheer amount of infrastructure needed to establish modern life is daunting in the extreme. The very few people who are considering founding some new society, some artificial island, some new place to live are the kind of tax-dodging, libertarian arseholes who shouldn’t be allowed to do so.
A way of recovering due taxes, a way of redistributing wealth and opportunity properly amongst society is needed. Offshore loopholes need to be closed and tax laws need to be simple, fair and universally enforced. Society benefits all and one should not reap the benefits without need and without contributing.
The old way of doing things just doesn’t work any more. We may have to overcome ideas such as conventional work, retirement, freedom of reproduction and endless consumption/production. A realigning of attitude that doesn’t stop us reaching for the stars – because that’s where our future is. A future not grubbing in the dirt, but walking amongst the stars.
We need something positive.
None of this is particularly new, it’s just radical, what’s changed is the situation.