When I was a kid I always thought that the times I was living through were the ‘boring’ times of human history. I felt that feeling of those times that history had really ‘ended’, just as Fukuyama had declared a year after my birth. When I flicked through an illustrated history book that my grandmother gave me and my brother, I figured that all the world had already been explored, all the world’s ancient cultures had already been dug up, all the big wars already fought, all the depressions wrought.
But I remember when this perception begun to change, it started around 2007, I think, and accelerated around 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, the year that it all fell down, as Bob Ellis put it, and I began to feel excited, things were actually happening in my time, big things, revolution was in the air and the tyrants were falling one by one. Every year, month, week and day since then I, and billions of others, have sensed something shifting, something growing and swelling, and I’m now convinced that we are living through some of the most exciting times in all of human history. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not, consider September 11, consider the Iraq Wars, the Arab Spring, the world-wide recession, the Occupy movement; consider also the rise of China, the assertion of Latin America, the continuous collapse of whole economies. Consider the rise of social-media, the collapse of commercial media, the allure of the fanatics, the actuality of Big Brother. The times they are a changing, the seasons are turning, big things are happening, and bigger things are coming, for better or for worse.
Enter Russel Brand, a celebrity actor and comic (as he’s known for the time being) who’s doing what he can to capture all the energy of our times and channel it into something big. Only a couple years ago I would’ve written Brand off as some postmodern joker, but I’ve come around, he’s come around, and now I can see he’s a serious character with a very serious mind. Following his editorial for The New Statesman, and following a series of brilliant interviews, Brand’s new book, Revolution, calls for just that; a socialistic revolt against historic levels of inequality of wealth and of power, a global revolution against institutional corruption, elitism and capitalism itself. Millions will pass him off as just another court jester, just as I did not so long ago, but hundreds of millions more will read his book, watch his Trews channel and listen to what he has to say. The man already has more followers than some grey-suited, neck-tied ‘Third-Way’ politician, more readers than any hack journalist or retired parliamentarian, more thinkers than any sandstone university academic (not that I’ve got any beef with academics mind you). He is charismatic, he is handsome, and he is, most importantly, extremely intelligent (entirely self-taught) and articulate. His story is one of drug addiction and depression, but he eventually found relief in the compassion of other addicts, the love of his friends, and he has stayed clean by practising yoga, transcendental meditation, spiritualism and, yes, by indulging in glamour and fame. He acknowledges all his contradictions, his vanity and his ego, and he knows he is as much a product of his times as a product of himself, but he is simultaneously an ordinary man, in the best, most complimentary sense of the word.
The man is well-versed in both Classical and Critical Left theory; he can quote Marx and Zizek with as much ease as he can cite from the latest mountain of evidence from Piketty, and he can make something which I previously thought of as a cardinal sin – not voting – seem quite reasonable if to vote means to give silent consent to corruption, elitism and inequality. Conditions, of course, are different from country to country, and Australia is only half-way down the path towards the pure oligarchy that we see elsewhere, but the principle remains compelling. He was chastised after he encouraged people to boycott the vote, but then again, after the Great War on Iraq (which, let’s remember, triggered the largest mass-mobilisation in human history, let me repeat, in human history), the Great Blair-Bush-Howard Catastrophes, the Great Recession, the Grand ‘Austerity’ Heists, the Great Crack-Downs, the Great Obama Failure, and finally the Great Silence on Gaza, who now believes, to quote a jubilant young Lisa Simpson, that “the system works!”?
Brand will be called many things – delusional, irrelevant, dangerous even – and no doubt those most unqualified in the realm of youth and idealism will charge him with the most ancient of all slurs against free-thinkers, that of ‘corrupting the youth’, but then, of course, they would never stop to ask why more will listen to him than to some polite and proper pollie ever could dream of. Brand is, I think, a genius, and I’ll be reading his book as soon as I can.