Russell Brand Interview

Russell Brand Interview

I found this interview with Russell Brand from Salon very interesting.  That’s not to say that my reposting of it is a rubber stamp for everything he says, but I do find him to be intelligent.  He is willing to look beneath the surface of our, and England’s, national bullshit story.  A sample:

Why do you think it is that your message can get applause on the Letterman show — which is probably American tourists from all over the country — and yet the revolution that we have had most recently is a Tea Party revolution, that essentially started with CNBC and a talking head who was outraged that homeowners were getting bailed out. He blamed all the wrong people, and we’ve not exactly had the equivalent revolutionary movement on the left.

I think I understand. Could I borrow your paper? (starts drawing) I think it’s because of the way the energy must move. I think it’s selfishness. Say that Republicans run on selfishness and greed — which is in all of us — I think the way that that energy travels is fast and in short journeys. I think altruism might have a longer journey. I think it might move more slowly. So I think if you’re trying to fire people up on this sort of fear circuit – these ancient systems of anatomical survival, of selfishness and greed, they’ve been functioning for a long, long time. Now we have a culture that is predicated on those things. We’ve acculturated aspects of our nature that are required only for our survival. And if they are overstimulated, fear and desire create a kind of primeval prison.

So I think why it’s easier to get a Tea Party message, a Republican message, across is because they function on fear and desire. These are fast-moving circuits. It’s very hard for me to motivate myself to meditate and do yoga. It’s very easy to motivate myself to eat chocolate or pursue attractive women. There is a lot of fire for those things. So I suppose what we have to do is look at the methods of communication. That’s why I have to go on “Today.” That’s why I have to talk a certain way. That’s why, I suppose, I haven’t yet left, entirely, this aquarium or arena. Because it’s not time yet.

Comic Radicals on the Left

I give the right a lot of shit on this blog.  I don’t feel guilty about it as the new right is batshit crazy.  However, there are those on the left that are figures of fun as well.  Even those that I agree with politically can often feel like another species when confronted with face to face.

One time when I was looking for a part time job to supplement my music career, I applied at Green Peace. (I want to say that I have no problem with Green Peace.  This story focuses on one particular office, although that office was typical of some other left wing organizations I have been to.)  First of all I wore a suit and tie to the interview, because it was an INTERVIEW.  I am someone that only wears ties to interviews, weddings, and funerals.  Most of the people looked at me like I was in the FBI when I walked through the door.  I instantly felt like I was in the Man in the presence of a bunch of radicals, even though my politics are in many ways as far left as Green Peace.  But these were very comical radicals as they all looked like they were trying to outdo each other in the how poorly they were dressed category.  I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy 99% of the time.  But they looked like they were having a contest to show how much they did not live by societies standards.  I’m talking sweaters with holes in them and jeans that were more ill-fitting than the jeans I have seen on homeless people.

The boss was the same, and yet somehow different.  He looked like a coffee house communist intellectual.  High and tight haircut, ratty sweater, thick 1950’s looking glasses, and an overly serious expression on his face.  In fact I don’t remember him smiling the whole time.  And this was a group interview, so even if he didn’t like my shit, he should have liked someone!

We were interviewed in a circle.  Questions that I had mentally prepared for, like why I would be good at this job, were never asked.  (If I had been asked I could have told them that I grew up with an environmentalist Dad talking over those issues nightly, I believed in Green Peace’s policies, and I had experience raising money, which is what the job was for.)  But we were asked who our political heroes were.  Not expecting that question I said Robert Kennedy off the top of my head, as most of my political heroes are people that are writers or artists.  I said this not because I am not aware of some of the earlier ill informed policies that Kennedy had supported, but because he was someone that was smart enough to evolve and change and become more progressive as he grew older.  Wrong answer!  I should have said Gandhi like the office boss.  Is there any more easy typical self-righteous answer that you could give than Gandhi?  Plus, Gandhi, for however great he was on so many things, had some pretty backwards ideas about women.  So clearly this intellectual wasn’t as smart as he thought.  His answer was no less complicated than mine, he just didn’t know it.

Anyway, I didn’t get the job as I clearly didn’t pass the holier-than-thou interrogation.  The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was like a contest between people to show how righteous they were.  Even worse than this righteousness was a complete lack of any humor.  If you are going to take a hard look at the injustice of the world you need a sense of humor.  Not only because you need it as a shield against the insanity that is out there, not only because it will endear you to people that otherwise might turn away from your beliefs, but because there is so much absurdity out there, that the horrible is often outright funny.  These people, clearly without knowing it, were the exact kind of people that give the left a bad name.  Someone like that office boss was going to turn as many people off to his cause as he was going to turn on, if he ever interacted with the public at large.

George Orwell, who believed in socialism, spent a great deal of his time criticizing the left, exactly because of people like this person.  Orwell believed in the ideas of the left, but he was highly critical of how people went about trying to implement them.

That day was dispiriting.  We both wanted to “save the planet”, but if we succeeded, I was glad it was big enough that I would never have to see that fool again.


Criticize Those You Support

Was reading an article on Huffpo today about how the White House is mulling over using another drone strike against an American citizen.  This citizen is working with terrorist groups in a foreign country.  Because I have a strange masochistic streak I decided to read the comments.  These comments quickly devolved into tired old right and left arguments.  The right claimed that liberals who were up in arms over Bush would not criticize their President.  The left claimed that the right were attacking Obama for things they praised Bush for doing only because they didn’t like Obama.  As usual any sense of grey was lost and things were only viewed in black and white for the most part.

I’m a proud lefty and I find the President’s drone policy to be immoral and wrong.  I will gladly tell anyone that I can that I think Obama has a terrible record when it comes to drone strikes.   My band No Show Ponies has a drone on the front cover of our new album because I wanted to find some kind of iconic image that represented in part what was wrong with our country at this moment.  The title of the album is A Manual for Defeat and the drone is a diagram.  We wanted the album to have a political component to it, but we also wanted for the image and title to play off each other in such a way that it was slightly interpretive.  I’ve written before about my distaste for our drone policy here in the past.  I have no problem criticizing the President and US policy on this issue.

However, I think it is possible to have different ideas at the same time.  I completely dislike Obama’s drone policy, but I support him on other issues.  Overall I like him about a million times better than his current Republican opponents in the House and Senate.  I think overall, especially since Kerry came into the fold, that the Obama administration is inching us towards a saner foreign policy.  We are not there yet, but the talks with Iran and Obama’s comment during the State of the Union that we need to get out of being on constant war footing are just two recent positive things that break with the past.

When looking at politics I believe you must be a dreamer and a realist at the same time. You must hope and strive for the ideal, but you must also realize when gains have been made in an imperfect world.  Is our drone policy which has killed over 2,000 people, many of them noncombatants, immoral and wrong?  The answer is yes, completely.  Is it an improvement over our last President who started a war which was not in self defense and now looks to have been for geopolitical and economic reasons and that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people?  The answer is also yes, completely.

I don’t imagine that McCain, who is losing his shit over the Iran talks, or Mitt Romney the great panderer, would have stood up to the military industrial complex any more than Obama has done.  In fact, especially with McCain, it’s not hard to imagine that our foreign policy might have been much more imperialistic and violent.  Of course, since neither of them got elected this is all theoretical.

I think as citizens we should always criticize politicians that do wrong in our name, whether we agree with their policies at large or not.  There are too many of us that I think often fear that if we criticize a politician that we by and large support, that the other side will use these critiques to score points against them and weaken other parts of their agenda that we support.  We must try to get out of this way of thinking.  It is possible to criticize someone and support them at the same time.  It is only through this dual way of thinking that we can move closer from reality to the realization of our dreams.

The Road to Socialism

The word socialism doesn’t really mean anything anymore.  It’s kind of like the term rock n roll.  It’s been used by so many people in so many different ways that it could and does mean a whole host of things.  Because of this it lacks any specific meaning.  Most of the time socialism in this country is used by the right wing to conjure up images of the boogey man.  The number one definition in Webster’s Dictionary about socialism is: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.  This doesn’t help us very much I’m afraid.   It only touches upon the many ways in which socialism has been used throughout the years.

If you want to know where I stand, I am a fan of the kind of democratic socialism that they have in many European countries.  I think the free market is the best and most dynamic creator of wealth and innovation.  However, I think the free market is not good at tackling certain things like health care, the environment, and the common good when it comes to things like infrastructure and public spaces.  We already do have sort of a hybrid system in this country.  Things like Social Security and Medicaid are socialist programs, but I think that we need to go further to the left, while still leaving room for the free market to play a large part.

One of the best arguments for socialism, and critiques of those who don’t understand how to sell it to people, is the second half of George Orwell’s book The Road to Wigan Pier.  Although Orwell has been claimed by many on the right wing because of his warnings of Big Brother, Orwell actually argued for socialism.  However he was highly critical of the left, not because he disagreed with what they were trying to achieve, but the way in which they were trying to achieve it.

I find one of his arguments particularly interesting.  He claims that many of the left do themselves no favors in attacking people’s tribal and religious affiliations.  He claims that when people are poor and down and out they cling to these things that create their identity, because it’s all that they have.  If you want to move the white blue collar worker, who in this country often votes Republican, towards a fairer more socialist form of government, you should not make attacks of their culture part of your argument.  I’m not claiming that he is right, though I do see some validity to his argument.  I just think it is an interesting place to start a debate.

The first half of Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier deals with the plight of the working poor in England.  He is mostly dealing with the miners, but he does touch upon others as well.  If you are interested in social justice, moving towards a fairer economic system, and the history of workers and politics in general, I highly recommend this book.

I don’t think that through my writing here that I have defined socialism in any definitive terms.  At this point it’s a word that has been dragged through the mud and has evaporated into the ether.  But I do believe in economic social justice.  We need to take care of the less fortunate in our society and give them a place at the table.  I’ll get behind any term that accomplishes that.