snippets from Russell Brand speaking about tyranny
Russell Brand: One of the things I’ve observed is that, whenever change is discussed, my tendency has always been to be sympathetic towards movements that are about change or empowerment of what might be termed “disadvantaged groups.” When you’re curious about the resistance of change or the difficulties that you face when trying to bring about change, look at who would be negatively impacted, were that change to be brought about. Usually, that means that there’s some people—conservatism makes sense for a particular group of people. One thing I felt when reading your book was that—because I think you’re coming from a perspective of psychoanalysis—the language rings true, and the analysis rings true. But one of the questions I was keen to bring to you was, when you talk about skateboarders—I think it’s in the last-but-one chapter—and that spirit of young people… courage and willingness to try dangerous things and push forward. I wonder how that sits with the idea of an earlier passage in the book, where you talk about the gratitude that we should feel for having time to read a book, and the ability to read a book, and sort of respect for the establishment and systems that have been set up, from which we all benefit. I could find it difficult to dispute your opinion about social justice warriors, and that kind of somewhat rootless, unresearched rage. I identify what you’re saying, there: people that can’t keep their bedrooms tidy—be careful before you let them organize an economic system. But similarly, where is change going to come from? Who is going to challenge tyranny?
Across our society, numerous hierarchies emerge. At some point, decisions are being made: “is being a brilliant flutist, or being brilliant at tennis, or being brilliant at owning land, or at controlling energy resources, or dominating financial systems—which are the hierarchies that are most important?” Also, the way that resources are designated, and challenging those hierarchies, seems to become, well, almost impossible. When I was leaving the hospital that had been taking care of my mother—at the level of crisis and trauma and tragedy there, they’re excellent. They’ve got the best doctors. The guy that operated on her, Martin Griffiths, is a fantastic surgeon—it was in fact him that Trump quoted when he talked about European hospitals with blood-spatted floors from knife crime. It was a mangling of a quote that Martin Griffiths had given. And then I step outside; I’m driving a long way—Chapel Road—and there are electronic advertising boards that require energy to tell me to eat McDonalds or Kit Kats or whatever.
There’s so much poverty on that street. There always has been, in that part of East London. Terrible poverty. There are moments where I helicopter out to the macro—a perspective that no individual can long hold, a weight that can’t be long borne. But in that moment, I think, “why is this hospital struggling for resources, when we can afford to run electronic adverts for McDonalds? Who gets to decide how collectively and individually we determine where resources and where power—both in terms of energy and in terms of human power—end up? How are these decisions made?” As you say, among the dispossessed, there are great resources, great talent. One would imagine—if the research were possible—to the exact same degree as there is power and talent among the possessed, because it’s normally an accident of birth that decrees. Reading about your early life in Canada, in a blue collar community, and the sort of mental health issues, and the anger and agitation that grows there—so much of that is about resources: the dispossession of the native people of that area, the mental health issues of your friend, Chris. For me, we that are rising through these hierarchies, we that have experiences on both sides of that line, well, we are now challenging this evolutionary force. We are now in a position to talk about these hierarchies, how they’re ordered and how they’re organized, and whether there is room for negotiation.
Look at our collective values—and I’ll just quickly say this, first. I heard that, in Sweden, they regulate and control access to alcohol at a state level. Liquor stores are sort of socially run. They’re not allowed to be advertised, in Sweden. Sweden, I guess, is one of those havens of—I don’t know what your views are of Sweden, but I see a lot of stories that make Sweden seem like a postmodern democracy, almost, in some respects. Anyhow, I thought it was curious that they control alcohol in that manner. I envisaged the breweries and liquor distributors saying, “hey, that’s not a free market! You’re controlling access to alcohol!” as if, somehow, the free market was neutral. But there is no neutral: if the market is what has the power, peoples’ desires will be overly stimulated. If people have McDonalds advertised at them, or alcohol advertised at them, people will bloody eat McDonalds and drink alcohol. There has to be some moralizing force. There has to be something that’s not economically led, that’s not the manifestation of greed, that’s in the conversation. Someone in a secular society, where there is no reasonable or trusted voice of God, has to be able to say, “don’t drink too much alcohol or eat too much McDonalds,” because they will.
I think (individual development) is important. I think it’s nonnegotiable. I think it’s necessary. But I also believe that, if you have a society that’s predicated on some of the worst aspects of human behavior—lust, desire, fear. If lust, fear, and desire are so high in the mix, if you’re constantly being prompted towards onanism and consuming, I think that individual improvement will be insufficient. I feel that your success—I don’t know what it’s based on, but I feel, to a degree, that you’ve contacted people: “oh, yeah—I can improve my own life; I can have a bit of personal authority and autonomy.” I think that’s hugely positive. But if every time you step out of your house, if every time you interface with society or pick up your phone or look at a screen, the aspect of yourself that’s being nurtured, that’s being invited to participate, are the lower aspects of your nature—because those are the most successful routes to a person’s decision making impulses.
Now, I think it is difficult for these individual projects to succeed. I think that, for certain people, that message will take hold, but for others it won’t. I’m not a big fan of regulation. I understand your irritation at this postmodern deconstructionalist argument of “let’s destroy God; let’s destroy all categories: man, woman—none of it’s real.” I believe in essence, the humours, the deities, the gods. I feel these things are present. But I feel that we’re already being subject to a kind of invisible tyranny. It’s already happening, and I don’t think it’s happening as a result of like some critical theory, post-Marxist—that’s not where power is. That feels like it’s sort of bullshit, but it doesn’t feel like it’s as fucking powerful as Glaxo Kline or Halliburton. What I’m interested in is power, real power, and how power is functioning, and how power is negatively impacting ordinary people.
- Taken from a conversation between Russell Brand and Jordan Peterson entitles Freedom and Tyranny – May 17th, 2018
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