In The News


Well, Russell Brand is at it again. And sadly, I suspect that unless someone kicks him squarely in the bollocks, he’s likely to keep banging on eternally with his artless appeal to the disenchanted to take up their pitchforks and flaming torches and… I really don’t know what. Burn the castle down? Guillotine the aristocrats? Raid the palace wine cellar? Some disgruntled display of non-specific discontent, in any event.

Not only that, there have been suggestions of late that he also has designs on the mayorship of London. This could present something of a challenge for Brand, as he has opined on numerous occasions that people shouldn’t vote. Achieving office of mayor would thus provide him with an interesting technical obstacle.

Brand is out and about promoting his new book ‘Revolution’ and it strikes me that it’s an episode of high irony that this swaggering narcissistic auteur (his Wikipedia entry now lists him as an ‘activist’) who’s made his career as a comedian, desperately wants people to take him seriously.

I have talked about him previously on the Cow, as you undoubtedly remember, and as I said then, it’s not his belief that things are broken with which I take exception. Things definitely are broken, but Brand’s simplistic call-to-arms – aligning his attitudes as he does with the Occupy movement – offers no enlightenment on the complexity of the problems, and no way forward. All Brand really has to offer, once you pare away his angry posturing and hyperbole, is a swag bag of platitudes and naive idealism.

Brand’s book has so far garnered a stack of unflattering reviews. Mark Steel at the Independent attempts a show of support of Brand with a diatribe of condescending snark that seems to suggest that the negative reaction is due to some kind of confabulated de rigueur disdain for the would-be revolutionary. He finishes off (virtually repeating the Brand mantra word for word, as if he’s come up with a new piece of insight on the whole thing):

“..in a world in which it’s accepted by all major parties that banks and giant corporations and vast inequality are inevitable and can’t be curtailed, the most radical act can be to ask why.”

Seriously? It strikes me that, as radical acts go, ‘asking why’ is a bleedingly obvious question that takes no great acumen whatsoever. If that’s the very best defence he can put up for Brand (and the article offers no evidence of anything else), then he’s working with very slim pickings. Steel might like to consider that the reason that reviewers have so comprehensively trashed Brand’s book is not because they’ve all come to some complicit agreement that he’s a fashionable whipping boy, but because his ideas are, actually, lame.

Steel quite rightly (if rather obtusely) points out that Brand’s bombast will appeal to young people. Of course it will – young people always respond well to simplistic rhetoric that offers to stick it to the Man – but this is hardly an endorsement of some revelatory new political strategy. It’s simply a recycling of the same aspirational flower-waving that we all subscribed to in the ’60s. And here we are again, because, hey – that went so well.

Why do I care so much about this? Why do I bother to spend words on this arm-waving would-be Zapata? Simply because it’s all such a misdirection of energy. An intelligent person like Brand could conceivably do a lot of good by attracting a young audience and constructively channeling their discontent. Unfortunately it’s just not good enough to be opinionated, brash and outspoken, no matter how passionate you are, nor how ‘right’. Constructive politics is not an explosive and radical landscape. It’s a difficult and complex process that requires thoughtful, dedicated and often slow application of strong and considered concepts. Most importantly, I think, it asks for a few things that Russell Brand is fairly short on: patience, insight and humility.

The person who has just been appointed to the head of Australia’s once1 world-admired science organisation, the CSIRO,2 believes in magic.

Yes dear Cowpokes, Dr Larry Marshall, a man whose scientific credentials barely cast little more than a dim glow from within the deep shadow of his business escapades, and whose tumbling grammatical trainwreck of a biography uses expressions like ‘leverage’ and ‘serial entrepreneur’, wants to create water dowsing machines.

Larry says he would…

…like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said. “When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

You know what, Larry? When you see that – as a scientist – you should actually ask yourself why no real scientists believe, for even a nano-second, that dowsing works.

You have no idea how they do it? My suggestion is that you look up the ideomotor effect and watch this video. Several times, if you don’t get it on the first run through.

  1. I say ‘once’ because, like everything else in this country lately, it seems that the idiotic buffoons who aspire to be some kind of ‘government’ here, are hell bent on making it the laughingstock of the educated world. []
  2. You know WiFi? The CSIRO invented that. Yeah, WIFI! []

No-one else is running with that headline, so I’m just doing my duty…

Yes, it’s actually science.

Over the last few days, the following interview with comedian Russell Brand has been doing the rounds on Facebook. I’ve lost count of how how many people have posted and reposted it, mostly with the addition of a ‘Yeah, right on brother!’ sentiment. I recommend you watch it to get the flavour of what’s happening here, before I chuck in my two cents.

Before I start, I will first proffer a disclaimer: I didn’t really know much about Russell Brand until recently. My awareness of him was limited to that of seeing him do a few bit parts in films and as the voice of Dr Nefario in Despicable Me. But I do read the Guardian frequently, and New Statesman sometimes, and I started to see articles by him pop up now and then. He’s an excellent and intelligent writer, with a clearly better-than-average knowledge of politics and social economics. And yes, he’s pretty funny too. So I have a reasonable amount of respect for him, all things considered.

But the video above really annoyed me. Or, I guess what really annoyed me was the way it has been waved around on the internet as if this man is demonstrating some level of profundity in it.

Now I know some of the people who I’m criticizing for doing this might well be reading right now, so I just ask you to set aside your ire for a minute (because I know you are undoubtedly angry with me right now and champing to kick my bollocks in the comments) and hear me out.

Mr Brand is colourful and voluble in the interview with Jeremy Paxton, but if you actually take the time to think about what he’s saying, it’s actually nothing at all. Worse than that, he says things that are counter productive and possibly even stupid.

He is plainly unhappy with the way things are in politics and in our world. There’s really nothing to add to that sentiment: so am I. Brand gestures and shouts and pontificates with righteous indignation, but he actually says nothing more than ‘things are fucked and we should fix them‘. He stops short of suggestion a revolution (and Paxman prods him on it, because that’s what Paxman gets paid to do) but focally, offers not even the faintest whiff of any idea for a solution to this situation. Worse, when Paxman takes him up on this, he bails (in my view extraordinarily pathetically) by claiming that it’s not his job to offer solutions because he’s just an entertainer.1 Just prior to this, he tells us that he doesn’t vote, and exhorts all those who are disenfranchised to do the same.

I can’t tell you how much this infuriates me. Anyone can say there’s a problem. This a NO BRAINER. Just as I pointed out on my piece on the Occupy Movement over a year back, a great many people (myself included) are unhappy that things are broken. But I said it then, and I say it again: spitting the dummy is not the way forward. Just as millions of people watched the Occupy [Wherever] demonstrations on tv and raised their fists in solidarity, a similar gesture here in support of Mr Brand is entirely without any utility at all. And just as the Occupy Movement has come to absolutely no productive outcome (as I predicted it would), so Russell Brand’s colourful invective-fuelled pantomime is sound and fury signifying nothing.

What takes me to a level of even greater frustration is that apparently if I voice any of the disagreements I just have, then I am somehow on the side of the status quo. In other words, because I say Russell Brand makes no sense in this particular instance,2 suddenly I am a right wing corporate arse-kisser. Or something. Why does there need to be this extreme polarisation? I’m a moderately smart person – shouldn’t I be able to offer a thoughtful analysis?

The very worst thing for me, though, is that the urging people not to vote thing is just profoundly wrong. If you have the right to vote, then you should use it. Not voting at all is plain stupidity.

I ran through this idea in that previously-mentioned article about #occupy, but I’ll paraphrase the pertinent points again:

1. If you think there should be a revolution, then you should also have the acumen to realise that you need to define the outcome of that revolution and how you are going to make that outcome work better than the current regime, otherwise you’re just looking at a great big clusterfuck in which the disenchanted plonk their arses neatly onto the warm seats of the recently beheaded (tell me that hasn’t happened in almost every angry revolution that’s ever been). So good luck with that – wrangling that problem has been grist for the social philosopher’s mill for the last four millennia at least. Brand has written elsewhere of what he thinks such a system should embody, but not how it could ever be achieved. Once again, his ideas are admirable (peace, love and everbody respect your neighbour), but it seriously does not take any skill to come up with admirable hopes.3

2. Democracy is the best solution we humans have been able to come up with so far4 in several millennia and when it works, it creates the best possible outcome for the largest number of people. The problem with democracy is that it’s at its most effective if everyone involved is actually involved. And educated. As I’ve said many times before, a dumb democracy is only as effective as the smartest people on the highest part of the bell curve. If you have a badly educated democracy, then wily, smart, wealthy people will quickly find ways to control it, and that, my friends, is pretty much where we stand.

Russell Brand says that by voting, you are complicit in the system, and in the status quo. Well, of course you are. That’s what democracy is. By not voting, though you are simply copping out of the problem, unless you have some better idea – and let’s be clear here: a revolution is seriously not a better idea. What seems to me to be shockingly obvious here is that there IS a way to fix things, but few people want to acknowledge it: you vote out the status quo. If you’re unhappy, vote the fuckers out. You can do it – vote for anyone except the major entrenched parties. In pretty much all major democratic elections of the last half century, there has always been an option that presented a better and more people-centric outcome than the party that got elected – but not enough people voted for that party. Why? Because people are, by and large, fearful, narrow-minded, self-centred and venal. Brand seems to think there is something stopping such a democratic action from happening – he stops short of invoking a conspiracy, just – but really, it’s not like the elections in the UK, or the US or Australia are rigged or something (well, not to that degree, anyway). People vote these fuckers into power. YOU voted them into power unless your vote went to an independent or a competing small party. This need not happen.

To put it simply, things would change if the priorities of the democracy were values, human decency, fairness for all and generosity, indeed, all the things that Russell Brand espouses. But they plainly aren’t for the great majority of people, and we can’t simply blame ‘the Capitalist System’ for that, as Brand quite simplistically does.5.

I believe that we could change things by using our vote if we had the will, and that changing them in such a way would be constructive and useful and far less damaging than some kind of ‘revolution’ with an unspecified aim except for general ‘niceness’. It seems to me, though, that not enough of us do actually have the will.

No-one has encapsulated this problem in fewer words than the great John Lennon:

War is over, if you want it.

We can have a good society. If we want it.

  1. Being an entertainer apparently doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion on the problem and spout it for all and sundry – just that you can’t have any constructive ideas for progressing. []
  2. Brand makes reasonable sense much of the time in his writing. He just turns into a clown in front of cameras, in my opinion. []
  3. I do take great humbrage to him bundling ‘atheism’ in with ‘materiality’ as part of what’s wrong – why do religiously-inclined people always do this? I’m an atheist. I can understand how to be kind to, and tolerant of, my fellow human travellers. The two things are not mutually exclusive. The fact that Brand disses atheism in this way really grates on me. Talking about being all ‘spiritual’ about the solution is a flashback to the Age of Aquarius (which Brand says it’s not, but seriously…) – and that worked out great, didn’t it? []
  4. Aside from benign dictatorship which is way preferable if you have an excellent leader, but any halfwit can see the problems inherent in that idea. []
  5. Let me be quite clear: I’m no great fan of Capitalism. I think capitalistic endeavour has fucked much up, no question about it. But unlike Brand, I don’t plonk that blame into the laps of a wealthy few: I think it’s an endemic trait of humans to exploit one another. Dealing in the debunking of pseudoscience has taught me that this tendency is quite nicely vertically integrated, thank you very much []

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been creating a major new work, which I’m pleased to say is now completely finished – aside from one further process: a production run to render it to Bluray so I can make it available to the world. To this end, I’m holding a crowdfunding campaign over at Pozible. There are some really nice rewards involved (most of them including a copy of the final Bluray itself). If this is something you think you’d like, chip in and help me make it a physical object. Also feel free to copy the link on to friends & other interested parties. All help will be greatly appreciated!

Barbara seems to think we have only two options here: number one is that we accept that imaginary creatures who we’ve never seen, and for whom we have exactly zero evidence, will save our bacon, and number two – ‘the other side of the coin’ – is that we blow ourselves to smithereens. The way I see that picture is that we may as well kiss our asses goodbye right now.

And, y’know Barbara, even if the aliens do exist, I’m not too sure we are advanced enough to handle their presence. In all likelihood, if they set their saucers down on Planet Earth – especially in the good ol’ US of A – they’re likely to get a cap popped up their oviducts. In case you missed it, I’ve aired my views on the aliens-visit-humans scenario previously on TCA and I’m not too sure about being all palsy with them.

It’s less a case of food for thought, than the possibility of us being food for them.

But heck. Congratulations anyway to The Sun for its reporting of UFOs. Someone has to do it.

(Oh, I just noticed that Barbara says ‘They have never harmed us in any big way’… I guess she’s covering her ass, here, so to speak – some people aren’t real happy about the anal probes.)

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With thanks to Omenater for digging this one up.

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