Russell Brand is wrong: Not voting is the real act of complicity and submission
By David DeWitt
Russell Brand, noted dandy and amateur pharmacologist, says you should not vote. Russell Brand, you are wrong.
“Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot,” he declares in his guest editor column for the latest issue of the British, aggressive-left (and I praise it as such) flagship journal The New Statesman.
Brand couches his non-participation in his disenchantment with politics. Unfortunately, he campaigns for others to join him in his rejection of the ballot. And it is here that he makes his capital mistake.
“I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites,” Brand shares.
Brand’s incendiary send up of all that is wrong about morning cable news, and, really, cable news in general, and, well, TeeVee, and insincerity, on Morning Joe, allowed me to take his essay, inspired and largely in the right direction, seriously. But with so much at stake, an anti-voting message undermines the every day combat.
“I will never vote and I don’t think you should, either,” he said.
“I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.”
Mr. Brand, it’s never more potent to do nothing.
So let’s see how well that foundation of yours holds up under the weight of the pragmatic consequences of rejecting democracy.
Total revolution of consciousness: Yes, sounds lovely, like a pretty revelation from a bullish dose of psilocybin. Total Revolution of our entire social, political and economic system: Sure, Natch. As you go on to point out astutely in the rest of your essay, to meet the realities and demands of our species on this planet for any appreciable future, said shall be necessary.
But where you’re wrong: The fight really is on the ballot. You must appreciate the nuance of incremental progress, where we are indeed winning, slowly, but, generationally, surely. You can’t blow everything up on the ballot, but you can move things with the weights and measures democracy was designed to afford.
I understand you are disenchanted with politics. After all, what could possibly be enchanting about the arduous grind of self-governance? Many politicians are frauds and liars, and much of their work is no doubt aimed at advancing the interest of economic elites. And they must be fought, but with the tools that we have.
Voting is not a tacit act of compliance, Mr. Brand. Not voting is a tacit act of submission. To not vote is to not acknowledge, and fight for, alternatives. To not vote is to resign from democratic possibility, and responsibility, only recently afforded to the masses.
To not vote is to reject the sole tangible power only recently obtained by the proletariat, the suffrage that has only very recently empowered women and ethnic minorities at the ballot box.
To not vote is to look at the history of the human race and its millennia of totalitarianism and to declare that the best progress the species has made so far is insufficient and should be rejected out-of-hand.
And there’s another view, best expressed by David Foster Wallace in his essay Up Simba: “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
I’m no foreigner to your brand of cynicism, Mr. Brand. I’ve been there. I’ve rolled at Bill Hicks’ legendary bit aboutpolitics in America: “I like the puppet on the right. I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking. Wait a minute, it’s the same fk’n’ guy holding up both puppets!”
In fact, George Carlin also didn’t vote, and his version of explanation is classic comedy, ending his 1996 HBO comedy special, “Back in Town,” with the routine.
And Carlin displays a similar cynicism about a broken system that serves the few at the expense of the many.
But you should note, Mr. Brand, as I have, that Carlin doesn’t go so far as to prescribe his non-participation unto others. As he’s explained often, his perspective is one of dispassionately watching the ship sink, without vested interest.
From reading your column, far from dispassionate, you call for a “spiritual revolution.” Selah. I am likewise afflicted with passion.
But you call for us to take to the streets. I caution, your solution only goes so far. And if you’ll glance over your history books again, you will see the inevitable violence of street revolution. Blood has stained streets throughout the world, throughout history, as our ancestors fought for our current alternative.
Listen, Mr. Brand, frankly, I don’t care if you don’t vote. But to incite others to follow suit, when you say, “I will never vote and I don’t think you should, either,” is irresponsible in the extreme. As I said, I understand the cynicism underlying your explanation and have struggled on that brink.
But local politics, the shear every day battle of the proletariate, the local struggle, pulled me back in. Double down.
And it’s even OK if you want to throw your hands in the air and declare of the politicians, “It’s all bullshit; the screws are set; they’re all the same.” But as Carlin noted, from where did they come? Our homes, our schools, our universities, our society, and the battle is therein.
So, to say that there is no difference, and that the politicians are all the same, is the last refuge of the lazy cynic.
And I do mean lazy because everything would be simply Jake if this were true—if they were all the same. How easy it would become to hit the reset button on the whole system!
I’ll acknowledge, on many issues, the major sides are identical. These issues tend to be the ones where the common position is systemically supported and alternative views are dismissed outright or marginalized. These are the issues that maintain a malignant and plutocratic system. But so long as they remain inelastic, they will break, as you relish in noting as you point out the effort they must undertake to suppress their opposition.
However, also too, every day, from the city to the state to the federal level, countless battles are taking place over very real differences that have extreme real-world importance to millions of people. These battles, without hyperbole, mean life and death for many.
These battles, having raged on for several hundred years now, have won freedom, equality, workers rights, and protection from destitution, systematic toxic poisoning and consumer abuse. These battles were won at the ballot box, Mr. Brand.
They have not been won wholly, however, so these battles still rage and more participation in democracy will be required.
Here in Ohio, we are battling still over equal rights, education, health consumer rights and civil liberties. These battles are far from over and I’ll be damned if I stay home and let those who would deny me freedom and equality become institutionally victorious. I will be damned if I sit idle and let those with malicious intent wield governmental power.
I want to chase them off as fast as their cloven-hooves can carry them, and I will do so, most immediately and effectively, through the ballot box.