Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Revolution Will Not be Branded

Struggling through Russell Brand's tome whose basic flaws this review nails (poor writing, repetitios, long windied and not terribly funny).

However, there are several ill-matched tropes in the book, which for me, ultimately, completely undermine what might otherwise have been a useful contribution to the debate on what should replace western capitalist "democracy":

1. Mixing up his own already fairly public personal voyage with a rag-bag of quite interesting critiques of the situation in which we are in, largely by other people, distracts from the impact.
I don't care that he's a recovering substance abuser. It isn't relevant to the argument, no matter how much he tries to make of the analaogy between his own and societies' addictions. The personal solution doesn't work for society, and the social problems don't gell with his conspiracy of the illumiati-bus load of ultra-rich. You can't blame other people, no matter how wealthy for your own poor choices. Re-organising society from the bottom up isn't just a matter of better ad-blocking.

2. Repeated use of 4 letter words, both for emphasis (ok use of F word and invective/dismissal of individuals (not ok use of C word), will piss of a lot of readers who are  from a more genteel world, or perhaps are just women, or just think the author should use his imagination to come up with less lazy cusses (think, arab curses, for example - may your mother's milk be long life).

3. Religion - so I see where he's coming from with the personal/spiritual aspect of life - there's a brilliant bit in Ursula Le Guin's genius novel, The Dispossessed, when someone from the capitalist planet asks the visitor from the Anarchist neighbour world "so you don't believe in god?" and he retorts that they are perfectly capable of thinking in the spirtual mode - its just one of seven ways of thinking. (Wish Le Guin had listed the other 6!)

The problem is that he didn't get the same level of expert advice or even decent sound bytes on how you might link social, and economic re- organisation with a spiritual structure that doesn't just end up being the same old organisation with priests and temples, hedge fund managers and casino banks, presidents, senators, lords and  white houses.

Oh, and he picked the wrong kind of yoga.

Some further thoughts
i). Brand is somewhat in-awe of "experts, to the extent where he magically places Naomi Klein and Thomas Piketty together on a pedestal - as far as I know, Klein is no more "quafid" than Brand to comment (this is not a criticism of Klein (or Brand) - anyone can read up this stuff) but Piketty has "paid his dues" so is an expert (for what its worth) - what makes Piketty and Klein worth reading is that they put their evidence up for inspection - their books are copiously well supported by facts.

ii) Crucial point is that its clear at some points (about midway through the book, for example) that Brand doesn't live the dream quite - when talking about Bankers Bailout he doesn't join up with the discussion of cancelling indivuduals' debts - the argument used by the right wing is that "if we cancel everyones' debt, they will just stop working so hard, and run up more debts". So if that argument applies to the Hoi Poloi/Jane Q Public/The Great Unwashed, how does it not then apply in spades to bankers? The austerity imposed on great swathes of Europe in the name of sorting out the crisis, which was largely bought about by covering failed casino banks and stupid lenders (not borrowers) is one the most awe-inspiring con-tricks of all time. As some of the smart people are quoted as saying in the book, it was transfer of wealth from the poor (who were also borrowers, to the rich who were already coining it from gigantic bonuses and outrageous interest rates.

The Shakespear line  "neither a borrow nor a lender be" sure is bad advice. Pick one, and make sure its a lender. (Brand does quote various olden time cultural and religious proscriptions against lending, to, errr, give him, errr, credit :)

iii) the book should be free (as well as buyable) - this is known not to affect sales of good books, but sets an example - my colleague, Ross Anderson, wrote the best book on security engineering, and got his publishers agreement to make it free online too without any detectable negative impact on sales (in fact, likely the reverse).

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