The delusions of Russell Brand

First came the Newsnight interview, then the reaction, then the defensiveness, and finally the attempt at an all-things-considered, rehabilitative opinion piece. Whatever else we might be tempted to say about the stages of Russell Brand's intellectual progress, it is undoubtedly rapid.

Let's begin with what is probably broadly agreed. Nobody worth listening to would contest that the many forms and scales of inequality in our world -- including but not limited to wealth, income, class, caste, and social status -- are major problems in themselves and present significant secondary concerns. But big problems don't tend to have simple solutions. When, understandably possessed by the urgent need to resolve big problems, humans are offered such simplicity, it is hard not to be seduced by the promise of a painless change. Brand calls for "total revolution". Not unreasonably, we can take this to mean a complete change from the status quo. But, as responsible citizens, we are duty bound to consider exactly what such change would involve. Does Brand think, for instance, that the equal legal status of women should be eligible for renegotiation when his revolution comes to pass? Does he believe that the modest progress achieved in recent decades in the area of gay rights should be jettisoned? Does he think that the charade of having the right to vote in free elections should be abandoned? (For a charade he considers it to be.)

My guess is that Brand's answer to all of these questions is "no", just as he has clarified that he thinks there should be "no death camps" in the Brandy Revolution. But the more of this type of question to which Brand answers "no", the clearer it becomes that he doesn't really think there should be a "total revolution" at all. Rather, what he believes is that the problems we face should be tackled broadly within the norms of a liberal democracy. The name that it is conventional to give to this process is "politics". Brand's puerile bluster merely restates the need for it -- slow, grubby, and frustrating though it often is. If he wants to, Brand could participate in the process -- but he will first need to become accustomed to distinguishing babies from bathwater.