There are few nobler exploits than a genuine attempt to improve society. For this, Russell Brand should be congratulated. Whereas many may use radicalism as a method to garner attention, fame and money, he already has these by the bucket load, and there is little reason to believe his motives are not honourable.
However, Brand currently presents a threat. As Farage is to the right, Brand is to the populists, a foghorn of haphazard ideas and loosely constructed whims, berating problems that we know exist with no actual solution. His Newsnight interview, when he was questioned by economist Evan Davis, was telling. Davis did not leap on his victim like Paxman may have done, instead choosing to circumnavigate, stealthily stalking his prey before going in for the kill. Brand had the problems, he had the rant ready but, when pressed for alternatives, he was sorely lacking, and his comments on a possible 9/11 conspiracy were ill-judged. Inspiring a revolution may be enticing to Brand, but he should perhaps study past uprisings before lunging into this one. Yes, the figures that he chastises are dangerous, but so is Brand himself. Anyone looking to embark on such a history lesson could do worse than look at previous examples of the disenfranchised masses latching onto radical figures. It may be bad now, but it could be worse.
Do not get me wrong, it is excellent that Brand is generating this discussion at all, but the worry is that people, particularly Brand’s loyal fans, will see this not as a conversation starter, but as a viable political movement. He is eloquent (if a little wordy and Will Self-lite), intelligent and, in my opinion, a talented comedian, but his radical ideas evoke those that would be thrown around the Sixth Form Common Room. Unless he can devise a few solutions, they should be taken with a handful of salt.
Brand advocates spirituality and religion as a cornerstone for this “free-thinking” movement. There are few things I can bring to mind that are less free-thinking than religion, and any notion that uses it as a foundation is a worrying one. He accuses Richard Dawkins of “atheistic tyranny”, and while he may have a point to an extent, this does not mean that a society founded on pantheism is the way forward (do I even need to explain why?)
Atheistic tyranny may not be ideal, but religion should not be off limits. Blasphemy does not exist if there is no God and, frankly, it deserves to be ridiculed because it is moronic, and deserves to be condemned because it is extremely dangerous. Brand claims that religion is not at all homophobic, and simply endorses the “union of all mankind”. Well, Russell, that simply isn’t true is it? Religious people do tend to pick and choose scripture to support their arguments, but this is either completely ignorant or a bare faced lie. “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (and believe me, that is one of many, many examples from religious texts). I refuse to accept that dangerous figures simply distort religion to suit their needs – religion in and of itself is an ugly, ugly thing. Brand can accuse Dawkins of tyranny, but he propagates his own views through a self-help style outlook, describing his own battle with narcotics as a starting point for this wider fight, and one cannot help but be concerned by the AA type stance. The AA is a cult, and I don’t use the word lightly, masquerading as a support group, where the only salvation is to relinquish all power to a superior being (a method with a 5-10% success rate). Religion should be the basis for nothing that even wants to pertain to logic and reason, let alone progress.
Then again, spirituality and religion is quite an apt cornerstone for Brand’s ideology. It has the odd nice, idyllic element, but it is pie in the sky, extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence and, beneath the hopeful, positive exterior, could actually prove tremendously perilous.