Russell Brand and the Messiah Simplex

in economics •  11 months ago

Russell Brand is a comedian and actor who is better known for his drug abuse and his famous relationships than for his acting or for his comedy. Not content with being a dandy, Russell Brand decided to personify the commodification of activism right down to the misinformation, petulance and ignorance.

Katy Perry. I know this post is about Russell Brand, but she's prettier.

For someone who describes fame as ashes in his mouth, he's certainly pulling plenty of publicity stunts and getting some well-deserved verbal bitch slaps in return (of which this Open Letter to Russell Brand is the most entertaining).

Talking About a Revolution

But what is this sudden impulse to take up thy hammer and sickle and walk all about? From what I can gather, it's not much more than a publicity stunt that's a combination of self-aggrandising, self-promotion and seeking sympathy for drug abusers. The most intelligible summary I could find is the Trews page on Wikipedia. This lists his prevailing themes as follows:

  1. a concern with widening income inequality
  2. the two-party system of mature democracies doesn't offer true opposition, so voting is futile
  3. the combination of democracy and the consumer economy support each other in a corrupt flamboyant bohemian fashion
  4. the media works for Big Capital so the news of Big Media should be treated with scepticism
  5. a focus on economic growth has lead to the neglect of spiritual and environmental concerns
  6. if you don't give us what we want we might have to stage a revolution

The Ginidiocy is Strong With This One

Income gaps - like minimum wage disputes - are red herrings. These herrings are so red that the definition of poverty has had to change to relative poverty and there's all kinds of astrology involved in determining who earns what exactly. Suffice to say that a poverty index that lists first world nations at the top is cooking the books to try and make practice conform to theory instead of the other way around.

More could be said about absolute poverty that is in decline or about living standards that are improving all over the world, but this has been dealt with several times before so just have a look at the Ginidiocy. By contrast, there are those who do believe that income gaps matter. I think class mobility matters more, but only when it is achieved on your own steam.

I don't think that a system whereby someone keeps up with the Joneses on your behalf is a sustainable one. It's definitely not one that could occur without mechanisms like, say, economic growth or consumer spending.

A Tale of Two Parties

It is unfortunate that as democracies mature, they tend to resemble a two party see-saw. This is an embodiment of Arrow's Theorem.

Does this imply that voting is ultimately futile? It is perhaps true that voting is futile, but not voting achieves even less than voting does and leads to the tacit acceptance of the status quo. At least when one votes and the two parties, as indiscernible as they may be, change every few terms, different issues enjoy attention and there is some compromise on the balance of power.

Brand is yet to show how it follows from having a two-party system that voting is futile. John Lydon certainly doesn't think so and he's as anti-establishment as they come. It would appear that there's a distinct correlation between groups that do vote like the elderly, and groups that have their concerns taken seriously. Coincidence? I think not.

Chimerica and Portmanteaus Superior to Trews

Democracy is tied to the hip with consumer spending. This is because in order to decrease wealth inequality, one has to rob from the rich and give to the poor. What do the poor do when their basic living requirements have been met? They spend a little. On what do they spend? On goods and services, mostly beer, football matches and track suits it seems.

Someone has to manufacture those track suits. I wouldn't get out of bed and sew track suits if I could sit on the dole, drink beer and take home a similar amount each month. But that's because I'd be earning pound sterling, baby. If I were from a country where the exchange rate takes one pound sterling and turns it into many pennies of my own currency, the situation would be different.

This chicken and egg situation is what has been termed Chimerica. People who buy the track suits need the means to do so. In order to give them these means, you need to stimulate consumer spending. In order to stimulate consumer spending, you need economic growth. And on the other side of the equation, you need someone who sews track suits.

Fortunately, the Chinese have started to smell the coffee and they are trying to decouple their economy from foreign consumers. But this doesn't put Chav culture in a much better position, it just suggests that one needs to come up with an alternative to consumer spending that somehow doesn't involve economic growth and wealth inequality.

Big Media Conspiracy Theories

Brand is correct but not about Big Media, he's correct in general. One should practice general agnosticism about any claims. But how does one know how to separate the agitprop in Big Media from the agitprop in the Trews, as it were?

Fortunately, there are those amongst us who are concerned with the fact that we don't do much better than chimps on a good day. They've compiled this helpful guide on How Not to be Ignorant of the World.

Neglecting Spiritual Concerns

Neglecting spiritual concerns is what lead to modern science in the first place. I don't think that leaving a demon-haunted world behind is bad at all, but if we are to abandon economic growth then at the very least I'd expect a hypothetical replacement. Even if it is fundamentally flawed like the Resource Based Economy of the Zeitgeist evangelists.

Fritjof Capra has a few ideas regarding a more holistic viewpoint that incorporates system science and hippie derp into our socio-political arrangements. But science are teh hard, even if you can study it for free. It's far easier to shop for berets and threaten a DIY roll-your-own revolution in the manner of simplex communication. A direct line to the divine is a poor substitute for spiritual growth, and so is trying to become a self-styled Messiah on a soap box.

In Case You Were Just Here for the Verbal Bitch Slaps

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great post, gargunzola as usual!

When I first saw Russell Brand playing in a movie (some time in 2013, I can't recall the show's name), I thought to myself that he seems quite witty, and might be worth reading up on. This was shortly before his BBC Newsnight interview, where I was reminded that there is a huge difference between a person's views, and the words they memorize to say on stage.
At more or less the same time, I was extremely proud of my own country for denying access to Russell Brand, because there were issues with his passport. I hope this was simply a minor functionary that didn't like his arrogance, but it might be even more satisfying to think that the person honestly didn't know or care who Brand was.
Either way - Thank you very much for the post, I had a good few laughs and learned some interesting things too.