RUSSELL BRAND AND ACTIVE APATHY
I should begin with a confession: I loathe Russell Brand. Ever since his juvenile antics on Have I Got News For You a couple of years back I have made a point of avoiding him and anything in which he is involved.
However, by accident, I saw his Jeremy Paxman interview and had to admit to being impressed: he was articulate and, despite my natural antipathy towards the man, persuasive. For those of you who missed the brouhaha caused by Brand’s comments check out the article he wrote for The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/05/russell-brand-democratic-system-newsnight), but in a nutshell what Brand is saying that the current political system in Britain has failed, that our politicians are no longer representative of the people, that the rich are becoming distanced from and contemptuous of the poor and that as a protest people should no longer bother to vote.
Now I haven’t voted for some considerable time and the reason for this is simple. I look at the political parties and there’s barely a cigarette paper’s thickness with regards policies between them. I look at the parties and see that they are each led by men (and they’re all men) who have the same backgrounds (public school/OxBridge) and who are bland, anodyne and devoid of passion. I look at the parties and I see they are all enthral to the Establishment and to big business.
I can’t be bothered with any of them. By many people’s lights I have become apathetic and it took a conversation on FaceBook yesterday to make me stand back and rationalise this apathy.
All governments have to be legitimised and as best I can make out there are three main ways this is achieved. There’s the Divine Right or the Ordained by God tactic which seems to be making something of a comeback lately especially in the Muslim world. There’s the Fear Strategy, which involves terrorising a population into doing what they’re told to do. And then there’s the Democratic Method where the government rules at the behest of the majority of the people.
What we have in Britain is democracy flavoured with fear. Back in 1920, H.L.Mencken noted that: The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. That is still the case today. We are deprived of having a meaningful debate about surveillance because of fear of terrorists and ‘National Security’ concerns (now that’s a threadbare blanket used to cover a multitude of sins!); we cannot effectively regulate the banks for fear they will transfer their operations to another company; we cannot control tax avoidance because those doing the avoiding have so much influence in government and our politicians are scared of them. The upshot is that our democracy is being distorted, skewed in favour of the rich and the powerful.
We need change … fundamental change. But because the political establishment is so entrenched causing such change is nigh-on impossible. Which is why Brand’s idea not to vote is such a good one. It isn’t apathy, it’s a BOYCOTT.
I’d call it Active Apathy. Its aim would be to de-legitimise the political status quo and by doing so provoke meaningful debate about political reform.
Now some of the comments I’ve read regarding Brand’s interview and opinions have been high-on hysterical (one guy in The Independent predicting fighting in the streets) whilst others have criticised Brand for failing to come up with an alternative to the present mess we’re in: both these are erroneous and both smack of the Establishment circling the wagons against change. Active Apathy wouldn’t involve violent revolution but rather stimulate a debate - an urgent and meaningful debate - about the sort of society Britain should be and what its priorities should be (my two-pennyworth: scrap Trident and stop going to war for a start). We are in the Internet Age and surely it can be used to enfranchise everybody … and meaningful debate will provoke everybody into wanting to be enfranchised. We don’t need to know the answer to ‘what next’: that would evolve from the debate.
Sounds good to me. I endorse Active Apathy!