Sunday, September 3, 2017

Belated Review of Russell Brand's "Revolution"

Back in 2013 a lot of people were excited by an interview on the BBC between Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand. There were demonstrations and riots in Britain and Brand (a comedian) had recently co-edited a magazine series about political change and BBC interviewer Paxman brought Brand on the show to comment about what was going on. At one point in the interview, Brand said he didn't vote because he thought it was a waste of time. The change that was needed in Britain wasn't going to be delivered by ANY of the traditional status-quo parties.

People I knew told me to watch the interview thinking that I'd be on Brand's side. But I wasn't. I agree with a lot of what Brand said about what was needed, but I'm past-tired of reading and listening to progressives admit that they haven't yet figured out the slightest first steps to actually putting their visions into reality. For me, the fatal flaw of leftists is that they act like the mice in the story "Belling the Cat."

So, while I'm no fan of Jeremy Paxman (He's an establishment media figure after all. Institutions like the BBC may rise above the inherent childishness and delusion of mainstream US "journalism" but they still present insane narratives wherein imperialism and capitalism are found to be noble, normal and good.) but I had some sympathy for his attempts to understand how Brand could reject voting while having no coherent alternative.

I do like Brand's YouTube series "The Trews" ("It's like the news, if the news was true."). He's done some especially good skewering of FOX News, more cutting (at times) than the best of what Jon Stewart did on "The Daily Show."

Well, one day I found that I had to take a bus trip and I had nothing to read. I thought about buying a Globe and Mail or Toronto Star in desperation, but then I saw Brand's book Revolution on the discount table and decided to get it.

If you want a book about how to make a revolution you'll be disappointed big-time. If you want a book with a number of great metaphors for how and why our system is doomed, you'll be moderately satisfied. Towards the end there are some tentative stabs at articulating some concrete ideas. (Very tentative.) If you want to read about how one man ponders the emptiness of fame and fortune and sex with beautiful (sometimes multiple) partners, ... Brand spends a fair bit of time on that.

But for the most part, I found it the epitome of the wooly-headed, optimistic delusion of leftist/progressive thinking. Brand has no clue about how ordinary people can overthrow the present system of powerful, intrusive state systems, with their billionaires, their private armies, the militarized police forces, the actual state militaries and the propaganda system and the religious delusions that divert so many people into consumerism, racism, capitalism, "conservatism" and etc. No clue at all.

I found Brand's religious-spiritual cheerleading annoying. He states that science is finding out its limitations and must admit religion's legitimacy. (Something similar to Stephen J. Gould's "Non-Overlapping Magiseria.") But here's the thing: Science and religion come from the same place, ... the human brain. Religion does not have a line into some actually existing higher, spiritual realm. Religions were humanity's first tentative steps to understanding the world we live in. They were designed when there was much less information to go on. To the extent that religions presume to make statements about wider issues of existence than someone studying how bacteria function, or how marsupials evolved, or how atoms are made-up,  does, ... to that extent it might have something valid or worthwhile to say than those narrower investigations do. But actual knowledge of the sacred or the divine? Most of the jury has decided it doesn't and there's just a couple of dead-enders stubbornly refusing to concede so that a verdict can be delivered.

To repeat: Science and religion are both creations of human minds.

Any scientist who thinks we're even close to understanding the infinite is deluded. By definition, the infinite is beyond our abilities to grasp. There are doubtlessly infinite things going on around us that we don't even have the sensory capabilities of even perceiving. But the unknowable is (self-evidently) unthinkable and we would do well not to speak of it.

Brand spends a lot of the book going on and on about how he was always searching for deeper meaning. First, as the chubby son of a poor single-mother, he tried to believe in consumerism and then pornographically inspired compulsive masturbation. In his late-teens, it was heroin that filled up his life. Then, when he became a successful comedian, it was fame and fortune and sex. But all of these things were found hollow.

He's walked away from his addictions. He's walked away from the Hollywood scene. He's trying to be a more philosophical comedian and a voice for progressive values. In this he's assisted by adherence to East-Asian philosophies and pseudo-philosophies. (As well as the 12-step program of AA.)

Some quick observations:

Yes. We are all stardust. We are part of existence made up of parts of that existence. Atoms, etc., ... we are part of this collective whole that have temporarily assembled into these particular forms and identities of human beings. So, YES, our individual goals and aspirations are unimportant to the great scheme of things. YES, in the long-run we're all dead. But does that necessarily mean that we must deny ourselves? If our identities and desires and dreams are so pointless, isn't our dedication to physical survival equally meaningless? The universe doesn't care one way or the other if we get that high-paying job. It also doesn't care if we die of cancer.

I'm not sure why that means we should all embrace apathy or suicide or why Brand and others who think like he does fail to realize that pointlessness is the end-result of their philosophy.

Brand says we are meant to be happy and are only being frustrated by a sick political system. But Science and me say that we are animals. Look at animals in the wild. They are made from stardust, just like we are. They live closer to their origins than we do. They live in the moment. Are they happy? Do they know joy? Perhaps some of the higher life-forms know brief spasms of genuine joy. But they also know a lot of fear, hunger, pain and terror. Most all of them suffer horribly at the end. They're either killed (sometimes eaten alive) during those times when they're too young or too old to escape predators. Or they die of slow starvation when they've devoured their surrounding food resources and are too weak and sick to move on to greener pastures or to catch prey.

For the most part, I don't think they experience much inner emotions at all when things are going decently for them.

So if they have no right or experience of lives of bliss, why should we expect human beings to?

Sadly, Brand spends a lot of time on crack-pot ideas of Transcendental Meditation. He puts a lot of stock in a supposed "experiment" a couple of decades ago, in Washington D.C., where a large group of TM devotees meditated and tried to project good vibes to the surrounding city. And lo and behold! The crime rate actually went down!!!!

First of all: Even if there was a correlation between the separate events, that the TM'sters meditated and the crime rate went down, that doesn't mean it was the meditating that lowered the crime rate. Experiments need to be repeated and results replicated, before you can even start to make claims like Brand is trying to make.

But, ridiculously, the crime rate didn't even go down. The murder-rate in the city hit an all-time high! What happened was the TM guru-dude predicted what the crime rate was gong to be at the time the experiment would be conducted, and then praised his work when the rate was lower than the one he predicted.

In short; laughable, embarrassing garbage.

Russell Brand is (despite his ex-junkie religious delusions) an intelligent man. He's got a good heart and (forgive me) a good soul. He says a lot of things that I agree with. But he's as far away from helping us transform our societies as is every other starry-eyed, optimistic idealist. And that means too far away to have any impact whatsoever.

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