Today’s required readings on revolution

Following his manifesto for a revolution, Russell Brand received ample praise and criticism, which he explores in a piece in yesterday’s Guardian.

I think he makes a lot of good points in there, key among them is an admission of his own potential faults and biases:

One thing I’ve learned and was surprised by is that I may suffer from the ol’ sexism. I can only assume I have an unaddressed cultural hangover, like my adorable Nan who had a heart that shone like a pearl but was, let’s face it, a bit racist. I don’t want to be a sexist so I’m trying my best to check meself before I wreck meself.

Watching people receive criticism online, I’ve come to expect the double-down defence, where rather than stop and consider that there may be some legitimacy to the complaints, the author denies, obfuscates, and attacks to defend himself (and it’s typically him). So II was actually really surprised to see this admission in Brand’s writing.

It was a short admission though, followed by an odd comment about his partner, the “benevolent dictator,” so I encourage you to read Laurie Penny’s discussion with Richard Seymour in full on the issue of left-wing “Brocialism.

Brand is hardly the only leftist man to boast a track record of objectification and of playing cheap misogyny for laughs. He gets away with it, according to most sources, because he’s a charming scoundrel, but when he speaks in that disarming, self-deprecating way about his history of slutshaming his former conquests on live radio, we are invited to love and forgive him for it because that’s just what a rockstar does…

I don’t believe that just because Brand is clearly a casual and occasionally vicious sexist, nobody should listen to anything he has to say. But I do agree with Natasha Lennard, who wrote that “this is no time to forgo feminism in the celebration of that which we truly don’t need – another god, or another master.” The question, then, is this: how do we reconcile the fact that people need stirring up with the fact that the people doing the stirring so often fall down when it comes to treating women and girls like human beings?

I think Penny’s questions can begin to be answered optimistically when there are admissions of fault like Brand’s. Obviously, his brief discussion is only a starting point and I do hope this bit of dialogue continues in these discussions moving forward.

Getting back to Brand’s piece, he repeats his argument against voting, noting that his interviewer (and token of the aristocracy) Jeremy Paxman couldn’t even be bothered to vote given the choices before him. Brand also begins to outline some simple models of what might make the world less bad – generally greater wealth redistribution and closing tax loopholes – which he credits to a host of other groups working on the same problems.

This all hints at the other criticism of Brand’s initial rant. He may not have offered any answers or a clear vision of what a better world would look like but there are many talented people working in democratic and grassroots groups that are.

Speaking of revolution, I also want to draw attention to Erica Chenoweth’s latest TEDxBoulder talk, which discusses how non-violent disobedience is becoming significantly more successful than violent protest at achieving regime change.

Her research has found that nonviolent campaigns have been twice as successful as violent ones over the past century.

(Erica Chenoweth/YouTube)

This work fits nicely in the thesis of Steve Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, which argued that humanity is increasingly less violent.

The other important point from Chenoweth’s work is the finding that revolutions tend to be guaranteed success if they can achieve the support and mobilization of just 3.5% of the population. Now, this is still a large number of people, but it’s not unrealistic. For example,

Each of these events also fails to capture the wider sympathy that can often exist for those marching in the streets.

I guess the point I want to make between these pieces is that there is reason for hope. We should push for better democracy – with electoral reform, campaign finance reform, reducing inequality, a focus on the environment – but to do so peacefully.