Russell Brand’s interview on Newsnight has had almost 6.5 million views on Youtube already, a clear sign that his call to revolution is resonating strongly with many, many people and underlining his own statement that the time for change is now, because a growing number of us are ready for a paradigm shift – fed up with the current state of affairs in the world, looking for alternatives and indeed finding them in the global community created by the internet and social media.
Mr. Brand is right to fight the assumption that not voting is a token of apathy. The reasons he mentions for not participating in the democratic process are the same reasons why I no longer vote: the system is faulty and its dysfunction is an inherent part of our political democracy. Change is constant, but we only move back and forth without making any actual progress. The problems we have to deal with – and that would arguably be the government’s job to arrange (ensuring safety, security and stability) – have only grown and show no signs of permanently going away. The underclass (steadily growing in numbers) struggles to stay afloat, while the elites are so interwoven with each other that they are not simply serviced by the system – they are the system. They have yet to face any significant threat to their position of privilege and power, but these days we finally have the tools to look for and find the “alternatives that might be of service to humanity” that Brand mentions at the beginning of the interview. And we may well become that threat ourselves.
When Brand postulates that the system only serves the elites (whether political or corporate), Jeremy Paxman’s disbelief about someone feeling that way is a tell-tale sign of how deeply the system is embedded in our reality. Not to mention it is bewilderingly naive. This brings us to the one of the biggest clashes between those stuck in the old paradigm and those looking for a new one: the former are pushing the latter to present a concrete alternative, which is precisely what the latter cannot offer (yet). Although Paxman’s questions are understandable, Brand is right to deny him (“Don’t ask me to devise a global utopian system”). It’s easy to disqualify people from entering into a discussion until they have an all-encompassing solution figured out, but that should not deter us. We may not have the answers yet, but uncovering the flaws of the current system is a good place to start. Tearing down the system means rattling at the foundations of our very society and civilization. Of course that’s scary, but we cannot wait until we have designed our Utopia including the infinite number of contingencies that have to be taken into account.
The current paradigm suggests that liberal democracy is the ultimate form of government (as put forward by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man (1992)). But it’s not. It’s a facade: the players change, but the game stays the same. Liberal democracy revolves around compromises which leave everyone unhappy, and the superficial appeasement of the population while the elite are the only ones who actually benefit. We can sit back and take it, or we can take the power back and do something about it. We can start by deciding that this system is what we don’t want, and build from there.
So what, as Jeremy Paxman put it, is “the scheme”? I don’t believe in the “heavy redistribution of wealth” mentioned by Brand. Paxman’s questions (who would govern? Where would they get their power?) suggest that any other system will ultimately run into the same problems, and I agree. That’s why I believe our end-goal should be the absence of systems. After all, institutions need elites to run them, and that’s why we should strive to end our dependence on institutions altogether. The ultimate form of government is the absolute autonomy of the individual. For now, that seems unrealistic and utopian, because it depends on every single one of us having good intentions and being willing to contribute to the wellbeing of the community. We may be far removed from that, but the current political and economical system only takes us further down this dead-end road.
It’s time to focus on what binds us, not what sets us apart. If we know what we do not want, let’s start there. We may not have the answers yet, but let’s at least start asking questions.