Why calling out Russell Brand is a revolutionary act


It has often been suggested that the demolition of the Berlin Wall marked not only the collapse of soviet communism, but the end of modernist political ideology – not only Marxism and state Fascism, but also nationalist liberation and anti-colonial movements, the European social democratic  consensus and other models of reformist controlled economies, each of which was based on some kind of empirical formula for managing and improving society.

Modernism had actually been dying for a while. Foucault famously identified one of the first major ruptures in modernism with his  writings of the Iranian revolution in 1979, which – at least on a superficial reading – gave qualified support to the spiritually driven, anti-modernist (if not postmodern) overthrow of the Shah and (more controversially) the nascent brutalities of a new Islamist theocracy. Around the same time in the USA, the Christian fundamentalist right was an emerging force, with powerful political figures devoting as much thought to predictions of the ascent of souls in a rapture as they did to the decline of the dollar in a recession.

Meanwhile the dominant economic narrative followed the zeitgeist, with an almost religious belief in the power of free markets and unfettered liberalisation and globalisation sweeping all before it.

Grassroots opposition to power took a similar turn. By the 1990s, overt opposition to capitalist power came not from democratic socialists in the Labour Party, or hardboiled Marxists in the trades unions, but from a rag-bag counterculture which grew out of the peace convoys to become eco-warriors and anti-roads protestors; Reclaim the Streets activists then the anti-Globalisation rioters of Seattle, Prague and Genoa. The same spirit now informs the global Occupy movements, Anonymous Hacktivists, UK Uncut taxtivists and, since approximately last Thursday, Russell Brand.

I have seen many of the movements above at very close quarters, and can say from experience that almost everything that could be said about the anti-capitalist movements of the past 25 years could be said about Russell Brand. He is our strengths and our weaknesses personified. On the plus side is the inescapable charisma, impertinent humour, imagination, intelligence, creativity and unwillingness to accept a status quo that is, in so many ways, unacceptable. On the downside an arrogance and self-righteousness that sits ill with a rather superficial analysis and prospectus; and a tendency to lean on and exploit the social privileges which we claim to be challenging.

But perhaps the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of all is our detachment from fundamental ideological principles. Modern anti-capitalists, for the most part, neither know nor care about Marx and Bakunin, Gramsci or Bookchin. We adhere to no dogma, subscribe to no agreed principles and champion no manifesto.  This can leave us like a feathery, gossamer strand, blowing with the wind. It is precisely that quality which allowed the Peace Convoys to evolve so easily into the environmental movement and from there to a mass global campaign against the World Trade Organisation and on down the line. I am glad of that. But it is also that post-ideological fluidity that can see the Anonymous brand being used one day to bring about a glimmer of justice for the Steubenville rape victim and the next to broadcast the most rancid anti-Semitism; it is the post-ideological detachment that saw representatives of Slutwalk London tweet their support for rape-charge dodger Julian Assange; the same ideological detachment that sees Occupy campers calling out for radical social change while attempting to cover up and excuse allegations of sexual assault and rape within their own ranks.

For the past week, the radical left (at least in the UK) has been twitching with the urge to support Russell Brand’s (at times) brilliant rhetoric about our sham of a democratic system and the grotesque injustices and inequalities of our world; while at the same time struggling to reconcile this with his history of overt sexism and occasional rank misogyny.  Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour debated the issues with at times alarming frankness.

I do not believe in utopias. Political struggles are never about building the world we want to see, because by the time we built it our needs and desires have moved on. We are always on a journey, never at a destination. Part of that journey has to be about refusing to accept what we find unacceptable. Above all, we must refuse to accept what we find unacceptable in those who are seen to be, or assumed to be in a leadership role.

I don’t know exactly what kind of revolution Russell Brand wants to see, I’m not sure he does either, but I’d assume that, like me, he believes in the power of change, the reality of alternatives. Part of that has to be a revolution in gender roles. As I say in the “About” section of this blog, I believe we should try to build a society where gender is rarely a burden, never a prison and always a blessing. To do that we need to challenge injustice, prejudice and discrimination. We need to minimise political and interpersonal oppression, abuse and violence. And we need to find compassion and empathy for those who suffer and struggle, whatever their identity, whatever their gender.

One implication of that belief is that we cannot pick and choose which injustices, prejudices and discriminations we indulge, and which we challenge. The solution to the Russell Brand dilemma, it seems to me, is neither to indulge or forgive what we might find unforgivable, nor to forever exclude anyone who has ever said or done a bad thing as if we were dividing the world into pure and impure. The solution is to challenge sexism, racism, class elitism, transphobia or whatever else, as and when it arises. That’s not to say that every challenge must be heeded and accepted uncritically, but everything must be up for critique.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing I have read from Russell Brand this week is in his Guardian piece today, where he says:

“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.”

As ever with Brand, it is difficult to untangle the sincerity from the camp showmanship, but I’m prepared to take him at his word on this. He is reflecting on his own attitudes in response to criticism, and that is what we all should do when told that we’ve been a bit of a dick.

The modern anti-capitalist movement has no politiburo to lay down edicts, no tribunals to expel dissenters; no party constitution to consult on positions and it is all the better for that. However in their absence, we need a bit of internal analysis, self-awareness and a preparedness to criticise our own. Those who respond to that with reflection and a willingness to change are behaving in a genuinely revolutionary manner. The reactionary alternative is not challenging our own racism, sexism or oppressive tendencies, but indulging them.

Comments

  1. says

    Modern anti-capitalists, for the most part, neither know nor care about Marx and Bakunin, Gramsci or Bookchin. We adhere to no dogma, subscribe to no agreed principles and champion no manifesto.

    True for me as well. I have to be honest in saying that I have little care for all these old dusty economic philosophers precisely because I have seen little to convince me of the relevance to their ideas to today’s problems.

    This can leave us like a feathery, gossamer strand, blowing with the wind.

    That depends on your alternates. In my case the reason I don’t pay much attention to all the old economic philosophers is because I have decided that their best use is only in understanding why a particular part of our current economic system is the way it is right now due to historical contingency. I do not go looking to them for solutions without good reason. Rather I look to psychology, sociology, and neurobiology. When I encounter a Tea Partier appealing to Locke for something that will supposedly fix what we are experiencing now, I ask how the ideas they are discussing are consistent with what we know about economic psychology. I usually hear stony silence.

    None of this assumes that there will be no old ideas that are not consistent with economic psychology, and not helpful today. Rather it’s a matter of going towards the information most likely to be helpful since many of those old philosophies are tailored to the times in which they lived and are full of assumptions about the world that are not based on anything like sound scientific understanding of things. But the old stuff could be rhetorically helpful in spreading an idea that is consistent with it. Assuming that there are many.

    As for Brand, I watched his piece and found it compelling, until I realized that I was responding to his emotional content and could not find much there of substance. In my middle age I have been encouraging myself to always look for the content and push aside the emotional stuff from leaders because I care about actions more than words. Too often lately we have been hearing one emotional message, and seeing different actions. Before this piece I had already made up my mind wait and see what he did, how he proposed to change himself because no social problem this big excludes us individually and leaders in particular. I honestly think that our number one problem as a human society at the moment is holding leaders accountable for their actions.

    This leaves me a bit more optimistic about Brand, but only a bit. I wish we did not need people specializing in rousing emotions and people good with content but we are what we are. BUT, this all depends on what specifics that he can bring up. Can he specifically describe situations where he has been sexist and precisely describe specifically what he will do to differently? That is all I will allow to sway me farther.

  2. H. E. Pennypacker says

    Ally, what do you mean by his history of overt sexism and rank misogyny? I’m wandering what incidents exactly you’re referring to because I’ve seen a lot of people claim this about Brand but the only charge they ever seem to bring that would actually constitute these things is an unsubstantiated piece in the Sun about him making someone on a film shoot show him her breasts. It certainly would be a horrible and sexist thing to do but personally I’m not going to castigate a man on the basis of an anonymous source in the Sun.

  3. JT says

    Russell Brand, the actor, not sure if I’ve seen any of his movies? Can imagine how revolutionary it would have been calling out MLK at the height of his popularity? It seems he had a penchant for the ladies as well.

  4. Ally Fogg says

    H.E.Pennypacker

    It’s hard to know where to begin.

    Off the top of my head, very famously, calling up an elderly man and joking about fucking his granddaughter. Doesn’t exactly imply a lot of respect for the woman involved.

    A whole history of rape jokes, including prank calling a emergency rape helpline during a gig.

    But more generally, virtually every utterance he has ever made about women does seem to imply that he considers their worth to be almost entirely tied up in how much he wants to have sex with them.

  5. gichidan says

    @ H. E. Pennypacker

    He shamed a women for having sex and is continually sexist, it made him notorious, which gave him fame, which made him a millionaire.

    In that article he says things won’t change because people have vested interests in current power structures, he’s an unbearable, dangerous hypocrite.

    I can’t understand how people can pander to his misogyny, saying that one brief paragraph was “encouraging” sounds like the opposite of a “call out” to me. He’s fooled everyone with his “loveable but slightly stupid” persona, he’s an adult who claims ignorance when it suits him, and people buy it.

    It’s funny how he easily understands every flowery word the thesaurus has to offer though.

  6. JT says

    It’s funny how he easily understands every flowery word the thesaurus has to offer though.(gichidan)

    Amazing how many people out there are exactly like that. Even more amazing how many of us fall for it. The best of it is that both the brilliance and stupidity is not isolated to one gender. :)

  7. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @ Ally

    None of that apart from the last one could really be construed as evidence of misogyny. Not showing respect for one woman is not misogyny – he clearly didn’t show much respect for Sachs but we don’t accuse him of misandry. Joking about rape isn’t in and of itself sexist – for one thing rape happens to men as well. Is joking about murder or war misandrist? I agree that calling the helpline was unwise but to call it an emergency rape helpline seems a rhetorical trick to pain what he did as worse than it was. It suggests that he called a helpline set up for victims and for reporting information about someone who’d committed a spate of rapes, what he did was call a helpline set up to report information about a man who had grabbed one woman and tried to forcibly kiss another. I’m not condoning it by any means but I think it’s better to be clear about what he actually did than to misrepresent it’s not.

    Whilst I think he’s far from squeaky clean I actually think he subverts proscribed gender roles far more than those accusing him of sexism and misogyny. Saying that showing a lack of respect to both a man and a woman simultaneously is an example of sexism against women is, in my opinion, to promote a view of women as delicate, shrinking violets who must be protected at all costs which is rather traditional and patriarchal for my tastes. I agree with the criticism of him following the phone-call but you can’t really claim it as an example of sexism.

    This part would imply sexism:

    “But more generally, virtually every utterance he has ever made about women does seem to imply that he considers their worth to be almost entirely tied up in how much he wants to have sex with them.”

    But I’m not really sure it’s true. I’m not the biggest follower of Brand but I’ve never gotten that impression. Again, I think you might be taking a flaw and exaggerating it for effect. He does seem to obviously let how attractive he finds a woman effect how interested he is in her (this often seems to be played for comic effect) but that’s not in and of itself sexist because, to be perfectly honest, I think for the vast majority of people – male, female, straight, gay – how sexually attractive they find someone does influence how interested they are in that person. Most people probably try to hide this fact that rather than play up to it like Brand sometimes does.

  8. Copyleft says

    Oh, not the ‘rape jokes equal misogyny’ routine again. Come on, Ally, you’re better than that. No topic is off-limits to humor, ever… nor should it be.

  9. leftwingfox says

    No topic is off-limits to humor, ever… nor should it be.

    1) Humour isn’t a free pass against criticism either.

    2) If your jokes show a constant bias, it’s disingenuous to claim that they don’t actually reflect your beliefs.

  10. trucreep says

    @9

    I agree no topic is off-limits, but I’d say for the sake of having a good joke, you should make sure you’re able to deliver it. The Tosh guy that everyone always cites, looking beyond everything else, his joke just wasn’t funny. Compare that to a guy like Louie CK and his “rape joke.”

  11. sw says

    @11
    “The Tosh guy that everyone always cites, looking beyond everything else, his joke just wasn’t funny. ”
    > At the risk of sounding like a creationist… were you there?
    Delivery is everything, and from what I hear plenty of people laughed. Hopefully we’re not now going to get into an argument about “it doesn’t matter if he told a joke to a crowd and the crowd laughed, it wasn’t funny”.

    I think Russell Brand is hilarious. Yes, he sometimes looks at women (and men) as sex objects, but only in the way that I sometimes look at my bus driver as a mode of transport. And he’s a comedian, his job is to put ideas out there to be laughed at, much of what he says is likely meant ironically.

  12. Suido says

    Yes, he sometimes looks at women (and men) as sex objects, but only in the way that I sometimes look at my bus driver as a mode of transport.

    That’s not a good comparison. The former reduces half the population of the planet to a single characteristic, the other simply identifies certain individuals by their most obvious role during the only interaction you have with them. They’re not the same way of looking at things at all. If the only thing women ever did was be sexy and have sex, then it would be a valid comparison.

    I think Brand is being sincere, and his admitting past sexist behaviours is very encouraging. My major concern with him having a soapbox is that, like any celebrity, there’ll be fans that can’t accept any criticism of their idol. Every time I read something by him (or any celebrity) about social issues, there’s a mantra running my head: “pleasedon’tfuckthisuppleasedon’tfuckthisup.”

  13. sw says

    That’s not a good comparison. The former reduces half the population of the planet to a single characteristic

    Actually, since I said he looks at both women and men as sex objects at times, surely he’s reducing the entire population to a single characteristic.

    My main criticism of Brand would be of his idea that you shouldn’t vote. Clearly the system is broken, but you can still vote for the least shit of two candidates in an attempt to minimize the damage.

  14. mildlymagnificent says

    Clearly the system is broken, but you can still vote for the least shit of two candidates in an attempt to minimize the damage.

    Yes! One of my daughters was very enthusiastic when getting me to watch an interview with Brand. (I know I’m not a good judge because I’m not a fan of his comedy stuff.)

    My first thought was that this was a model exhibit of the perfect is the enemy of the good philosophy.

    Abdicating from your prime obligation as a citizen until the rest of your society does things the way you prefer is a moral failing in my view. I may be a bit of a bossy boots in this because I’m Australian so I see turning up at the polls every so often as a citizen’s obligation, not just an option for those who like to take an interest.

  15. Lucy says

  16. Lucy says

    H.E.Pennypacker

    “Ally, what do you mean by his history of overt sexism and rank misogyny? ”

    This: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/apr/09/russell-brand-margaret-thatcher
    And this: m.youtube.com/watch?v=s2eDj39q0Fo&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Ds2eDj39q0Fo
    And this: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/1867799/Georgina-Baillie-says-Russell-Brand-and-Jonathan-Ross-disgust-her.html
    And this: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/10/russell-brand-on-revolution
    And this: m.youtube.com/watch?v=xDe1pJ9hCEE
    And this: m.youtube.com/watch?v=MIY2DSaHpa0

  17. Lucy says

    H.E. Pennypacker
    “Not showing respect for one woman is not misogyny”

    No, you’re right it isn’t. But when that disrespect is manifested through casual sexism then it is sexist. The fact that he and his equally sexist mate, thought it would be a fine joke to humiliate one woman for having sex, publicly with no accountability indicates a certain attitude wouldn’t you say? The same kind do attitude demonstrated some time before when they mused on air about whether they would have sex with a female journalist that had just been interviewed by them and had left the building. When you follow this up by apologising, not to the woman in question, but to the man you have humiliated her to, then it jumps the sexist shark and becomes a misogyny whale.

  18. Lucy says

    H.E.Pennypacker

    “But I’m not really sure it’s true. I’m not the biggest follower of Brand but I’ve never gotten that impression. Again, I think you might be taking a flaw and exaggerating it for effect. He does seem to obviously let how attractive he finds a woman effect how interested he is in her (this often seems to be played for comic effect) but that’s not in and of itself sexist because, to be perfectly honest, I think for the vast majority of people – male, female, straight, gay – how sexually attractive they find someone does influence how interested they are in that person. Most people probably try to hide this fact that rather than play up to it like Brand sometimes does.”

    All well and good when your gender is represented in multiple ways in the media, but when your gender is already labouring under the yoke of over-sexualisation then it takes on a different character.

  19. Lucy says

    All the people (men) he says he admires from history, Jesus, Gandhi, Guevara, had equally problematic attitudes to women in their revolutionary movements.

    Jesus only had male disciples and a few female camp followers who hardly got a look in, their most famous revolutionary act in the Gospels is washing his feet. And the Christian movement gave birth to one of the most pernicious and destructive misogynist forces the world has ever seen (one of them).

    There’s a nice article on this blog on Gandhi’s sexism: freethoughtblogs.com/taslima/2013/08/16/gandhi/

    Guevara was a serial womaniser, stereotyped women’s contribution to the revolution as cooking, cleaning and sewing for the men. And his “new man” philosophy is an object lesson in unacknowledged privilege.

  20. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @17

    I’m not going to bother responding to 16 because as far as I can tell you’ve posted a load of links that aren’t evidence of sexism or misogyny.

    It seems obvious that they’re main aim was not to humiliate a woman for having sex. Nothing they say indicates there’s anything wrong with her having sex – what they play on is the idea that her male relatives should be concerned with who she’s having sex with. They play into patriarchal ideas of “men’s honour is tied up with the chastity of their female relatives” rather than “women’s honour is tied up with their own chastity”.

  21. Lucy says

    @Suido

    “the other simply identifies certain individuals by their most obvious role during the only interaction you have with them. ”

    If the only interaction a man has with women is sexual, and that is how he sees their role, then that’s a pretty good example of sexism.

  22. Lucy says

    H.E.Pennypacker

    “I’m not going to bother responding to 16 because as far as I can tell you’ve posted a load of links that aren’t evidence of sexism or misogyny.”

    Then the issue is with your definitions and how much you can tell.

    “It seems obvious that they’re main aim was not to humiliate a woman for having sex. Nothing they say indicates there’s anything wrong with her having sex – what they play on is the idea that her male relatives should be concerned with who she’s having sex with. They play into patriarchal ideas of “men’s honour is tied up with the chastity of their female relatives” rather than “women’s honour is tied up with their own chastity”.

    One of the links concerns the Georgiana Baille episode, so there is no “they” about it. That link shows her explaining that SHE felt humiliated. Which of course she would having just been demeaned for comedic value in front of the nation and her relatives. But SHE apparently neither deserves an apology from Brand and Ross or so much as recognition from you.

  23. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @ 18

    Brand strives hard to sexualise himself and mocks other man for their lack of sexuality.

    @ 19

    People From the Past in Old Fashioned Attitudes Shocker!

  24. Lucy says

    @sw

    “Actually, since I said he looks at both women and men as sex objects at times, surely he’s reducing the entire population to a single characteristic.”

    He looks at women, almost exclusively as sex objects, he looks at men occasionally as sex objects. His essay on the “New” World Order cites one beautiful, nameless woman and a number of named, appearanceless men.

  25. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @ 22

    If you want to cite those links as evidence of misogyny then you have to explain in what way they prove the charge. You can’t just post a bunch of links and say “this proves my case and if you can’t see why then you’re wrong”.

    “One of the links concerns the Georgiana Baille episode, so there is no “they” about it.”

    What? This doesn’t make any sense.

    “That link shows her explaining that SHE felt humiliated. Which of course she would having just been demeaned for comedic value in front of the nation and her relatives.”

    I couldn’t read the link but I can see why she would feel humiliated. I don’t really get what your point is though, I never said anything about how she should feel.

    “But SHE apparently neither deserves an apology from Brand and Ross or so much as recognition from you.”

    Yes I’ve pointed out that it’s pretty patriarchal to think that a man’s honour is linked to the sexual activities of his female relatives. Interestingly, however, it’s a view that Georgina endorses much more explicitly:

    ‘In some ways [Johnathon Ross] is the biggest disappointment because he has daughters, I bet if you asked him he would say he’d lay down in traffic to defend their honour.’

    I agree that they should have apologised but I can also see why you might not be so quick to apologise to someone who was saying this about you:

    ‘I will only say he’s a disappointment in the bedroom considering he has had so much practice.’

    Which is far more humiliating than anything Brand said and is at least as sexist.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1081722/Georgina-Baillie-Russell-Brand-obsessed-Fawlty-Towers-grandfather-bed.html

  26. Adiabat says

    Yes, the radical left doesn’t “call people out” enough; that’s their problem! They should do it more because they do it so rarely. /s

  27. B-Lar says

    I don’t vote, and I despair that the attitude of voting for someone because they are the least shit is the norm.

    Naturally you would prefer a corrupt asshole politician over a batshit-crazy corrupt asshole politician, and you should vote in whatever manner makes you happy. I wont be held responsible for putting either of them in charge however, and so I reserve my vote for the day I encounter a politician who doesn’t make me utterly nauseous.

    There should be a “none of the above” option, and there should be a contingency put in place for what happens if/when the majority of the people tick that box. Any democracy without that option will eventually become sick from its systemic inflexibility, and Russell Brand (along with any other person who talks about this) is a symptom of that sickness, not a revolutionary.

  28. Lucy says

    “There should be a “none of the above” option, ”

    Well that’s what spoiling your vote is.

    “and there should be a contingency put in place for what happens if/when the majority of the people tick that box. ”

    There is: coalition.

  29. says

    People From the Past in Old Fashioned Attitudes Shocker!

    Well, then if it is true that Brand admires these people, do you not agree that he should rethink this?

  30. WhineyMalone says

    Dunno, just seems like very strange priorities to me. Why should calling Brand out on his facetious remarks be considered more important than the institutional discrimination driven through by gender feminists in government, or indeed the deeply damaging record of misandry perpetrated by Ally’s employers at the Guardian? The values and ethos of these metropolitan types often come across as somewhat unfathomable.

  31. Jay says

    “On the set of Eric Idle‘s musical What About Dick?, production was apparently halted for two hours because Russell Brand refused to perform until his wardrobe girl showed him her tits. That’s right, a grown man and paid professional just sat there like a toddler who was refused candy because he wanted to see a woman’s breasts.

    According to the story reported in The Sun, the woman involved was not happy about the request and refused to give in for quite a while. It wasn’t until she started to get worried about the movie production itself and the time delays that she finally acquiesced, apparently saving an entire film with one lift of her shirt. That wasn’t so hard, right?

  32. mildlymagnificent says

    I thought Billy Connolly had said that the story wasn’t true. Not sure whether that means that it’s entirely untrue or just that he wasn’t involved. But it’s certainly a bit suss as presented.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s some basis behind the story (as I said, I’m not a fan) but it’s apparently not as reported.

  33. B-Lar says

    Lucy, that is a huge cop out. on bothcounts

    Firstly, while spoiling your ballot may be the option in the conventional sense, it is not one of the stated options with a box to tick. It reduces a serious political act to one of civil disobedience and it is not respected choice. “Why don’t you just spoil your ballot if you don’t like it” is as much a poorly thought out dogwhistle as “Why don’t you wear more clothes if you don’t want to get raped”.

    Secondly, if a majority of the country had actually chosen none of the above, then a coalition would not have a mandate to rule either. I’m thinking something like, power being handed back to the Queen until a new election can be held, which would presumably happen after a public consultation as to what they were doing wrong in the first place.

    If there is a fundamental problem with a system, you don’t assume that it will all work itself out if we just carry on using the system. You stop the system, find out what is not working properly, fix it, and restart the system. The System can only function properly when people have confidence in it, We need a point at which a vote of no confidence (in The System, not just in a body or an individual) can be formally recognised.

  34. splen says

    Billy Connolly outright said the story was complete bollocks in an interview in The Independent.

    “That [widely reported] story,” says Connolly evenly, “is a total invention. A complete fabrication. It’s total bollocks. It never happened. Russell was very well-behaved, and I found him very interesting.” Did he find him funny? “Oh aye. I really enjoyed his company. I liked his vocabulary, and his stance. He poses and… stances around all the time, and I like that.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/yin-and-yang-how-billy-connolly-calmed-down-just-dont-mention-piers-morgan-8412113.html
    http://tabloid-watch.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/billy-connolly-denies-claims-in-sun.html

  35. Lucy says

    @B-lar

    “Firstly, while spoiling your ballot may be the option in the conventional sense, it is not one of the stated options with a box to tick. It reduces a serious political act to one of civil disobedience and it is not respected choice. “Why don’t you just spoil your ballot if you don’t like it” is as much a poorly thought out dogwhistle as “Why don’t you wear more clothes if you don’t want to get raped”.

    I don’t agree that spoiling one’s vote is not a respected choice; these votes are counted and included in the final tallies. It means exactly the same thing as “none of the above”. Whereas there are multiple ways to interpret abstention as the anarchists and Brand advocate.

    Suppose a “none of the above” option is added to the ballot paper – how do you now interpret spoiled votes; are those now irrelevant?

    “Secondly, if a majority of the country had actually chosen none of the above, then a coalition would not have a mandate to rule either. I’m thinking something like, power being handed back to the Queen until a new election can be held, which would presumably happen after a public consultation as to what they were doing wrong in the first place.”

    A majority of the electorate who have turned out to vote? Or a majority of the electorate including those who don’t vote and/or who still spoil their votes by accident or design?

    Suppose a large number of people tick it (and a box craves being ticked) then the other parties who have been voted for now have a higher proportion of the other votes and GREATER legitimacy.

    “If there is a fundamental problem with a system, you don’t assume that it will all work itself out if we just carry on using the system. You stop the system, find out what is not working properly, fix it, and restart the system. The System can only function properly when people have confidence in it, We need a point at which a vote of no confidence (in The System, not just in a body or an individual) can be formally recognised.”

    A majority voting, “none of the above” doesn’t tell us that the majority wants to dismantle the democratic system does it? All it tells us is that people don’t like any of their local candidates. Hardly a mandate for a revolution or coup.

    I would suggest if it’s the voting and parliamentary system itself that is the problem rather than the parties or politicians currently standing, then voting isn’t going to be the way to solve it. There are plenty or anarchist movements to join if that’s your bag.

  36. Ally Fogg says

    b & H.E. Pennybacker [8}

    Fair enough. I just disagree.

    For starters, I never suggested that Brand is a foaming-at-the-mouth extreme misogynist who spends his every day glorying in the pain and suffering of women.

    The exact phrase I used was “overt sexism and occasional rank misogyny.”

    I think there is overt sexism running through his performance. Even in something as (supposedly) serious as his New Statesman essay and Paxman interview, one of the first things he said was that he agreed to guest-edit the NS because he was invited to by “a beautiful woman” – that might not be the most offensively sexist thing ever said or done by anyone, but it is overtly sexist – it affords worth and significance to a woman on the basis of her physical attractiveness, in a context where that is really not appropriate. That is sexism. If you can’t see that, then hey, what can I say, we disagree.

    We must also recognise that as I say in the article, Brand himself seems to pretty much accept and agree that he has been sexist and that it is not acceptable.

    I also think the Andrew Sachsgate thing in particular does cross a line into rank misogyny. It was not about the specific woman involved, it was about reducing her sexuality to an instrumental punchline and displaying contempt for her privacy and autonomy. Again, it might not be the most misogynisitc thing anyone has ever said or done, but it did display contemptible attitudes not just to one woman, but to women. You might disagree, hey, we disagree.

    I think the key point here is that sexism or misogyny are not always overt expressions “I hate women and think they should be kept barefoot pregnant and in the kitchen.” – they are often subtle, understated and – crucially – subject to debate and interpretation. It’s like saying you don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the KKK to say and do racist things. And it is absolutely fine for people to debate whether something any one says or does is sexist, homophobic, racist or whatever. There is no single litmus test for prejudice. Cultural standards and degrees of acceptability change constantly, as they should.

    If you are a halfway decent person, and someone tells you they think something you’ve said and done is racist, misogynistic or whatever, the correct thing to do is say “oh shit, do you think so?” and then have a good hard think and self-reflection about it. If you conclude the other person had a point, you try not to do it again in future. I think that it is to Brand’s credit that he (at least says he) is doing exactly that at the moment.

    The correct response to someone suggesting you might have said or done racist, sexist or whatever things is rarely to get defensive and tell the other person that you know better than them what racism, sexism or whatever looks like and insist you will not change what you say or do, even if others are perceiving you in that way.

  37. b says

    Hi, thanks for your reply.

    I was never a Brand fan until I recently went back and watched Re Brand. It was a show he did when he was younger. I was impressed by the way he chose to challenge such things as fear of the homeless, homophobia and beauty standards. I found him to have a beautiful heart who was willing to see the good in everyone and overcome his initial societally conditioned reaction. I was impressed. Knowing his character from that early show, when he calls a woman beautiful, it occurs to me that he could be referring to qualities she possess other than the physical characteristics she possess, such as her personality and general vibe. Im sure we have all me physically attractive people who we would not refer to as beautiful. Some of the least beautiful people to me have been physically attractive, and vice versa.

    I thought the Sachs incident was an asshole move. In comedy there is always a line that can be crossed, and it was certainly crossed here. I don’t see how gender plays into it. I don’t think think there was any hate for one half of the population coming through, he was just being an asshole. If Brand had been gay and it had been Sachs’ grandson how would that change the intention or thoughtlessness of the so-called joke. It would still be exactly the same, no worse, no better, so why call her vagina into play?

    If I am being an asshole to someone, and that person happens to have a vagina am I a misogynist or am i just being an asshole.Does it mean that I hate/disrespect all women, or am i just having a particular problem with this individual at this time, rightly or wrongly. I come from a family where i have an adopted brother who is Chinese. I love him dearly, always have, but like all kids we fought as children. In those times where I was an asshole to him, (say for eg. I didn’t want him playing w my toys or joining in a game w me and my friends) was I also a racist because he happens to be of Asian descent. If he had been my sister would I also be a misogynist?

  38. mildlymagnificent says

    If I am being an asshole to someone, and that person happens to have a vagina am I a misogynist or am i just being an asshole.

    Lots of options here. Starting from not a nice person because you’re nasty to everyone through to usually a nice person but touchy in certain circumstances which bring out your worst.

    The biggest issue for the being-an-asshole issue is sometimes not accessible to the person themselves. It’s in a social or work group where the men and women have opposing views of a person. One manager in a place I worked (fortunately I never worked directly for him) seemed to be two people. The men thought he was tough but fair, a bit of a pain at times. The women? Hated him beyond all reason. Turns out he had different dealings with them. Any man who got called in for a stern word about job performance or punctuality or the like got a bit of a dressing down and sent on their way. A woman called in for a similar reason – was never allowed to leave the office until she was in tears. Some women learned to get out of there by letting the tears flow early. The ones who held their ground could be stuck in there for a very long time. But in the end, they had to cry. I’m pretty sure that the man himself was pretty well oblivious to this stark difference. He thought this was just the way women were.

    (Of course, just walking into his office could be eye-watering all on its own. This was a man who believed that using deodorant was effeminate. And he cycled to work in his suit and tie. It was not a good idea to enter that office in the afternoon after a hot summer morning.)

  39. H. E. Pennypacker says

    @ Ally

    Fair enough. I would interpret those examples differently but I won’t belabour the point because actually I had originally wanted to say something else about this article but didn’t have time.

    It seems to me that the tendency to call people out is far more pronounced than it used to be and that this is a direct consequence of the political trends that you describe. I would place the turning point in left wing politics at the end of the 1960s and particularly the year 1968, which also impacted academia influencing theorists like Foucault as structuralism gave way to post-structuralism.

    These changes in left-wing politics centre on the rise of individualism and a tension between the moral and the political. In 1968 Soviet tanks rolled into Prague crushing any hopes of reforming Communism in Europe whilst the right-wing coups happening all over Latin America in the 1970s destroyed any hope of socialist utopia there. One of the most influential changes in the 1970s was the meteoric rise in human rights campaigning with Amnesty International leading the charge, explicitly framing their criticisms of totalitarian regimes as moral rather than political questions. Expediency was part of the motivation for this tactic – it was possible for people living under repressive regimes to voice moral opposition in a way that it wasn’t for political opposition. It was also born out of the initially religious impetus of Amnesty International – it’s original goal was primarily to secure religious freedom for those living under soviet rule and its letter writing campaign was conceived as similar to saying a prayer for the oppressed (and was probably about as effective – one of its founders stated that one of the fundamental aims was to help people feel like they were making a difference).

    One of the other more influential examples from that period was the feminist redefining of what had previously been considered moral questions as political questions – ‘the personal is political’ – as well as political activism using the language of individualism – ‘a woman’s right to choose’.

    These developments have had both positive and negative effects. Obviously domestic violence and marital rape are issues for the whole of society and no reasonable person could still claim that they’re purely a family matter. They’ve also had effects which are ambivalent at best such as the marginalisation of ‘class struggle’ and the idea that we should reform the current system rather than seek to replace it.

    As Slavoj Zizek has pointed out, whilst Fukuyama was rightly mocked for announcing ‘The End of History’ (where he argued that Western democratic capitalism had proven itself the most viable system and would continue til the end of time), most of his critics go on working under the assumption that he was right. At its most pernicious this leads to the promotion of the idea that you can save the world by buying the right coffee and this is indicative of the facts that these changes in left-wing activism made it easier for them to be co-opted by neoliberal capitalism.

    As tempted as I am to go off on this tangent here I’ve realised I should bring what I’m saying back to the original point. My point is that politics and morality have become intimately bound together in a way they weren’t before and this process has fed into and off an increasing individualisation of political questions*. This manifests itself in the Amnesty International approach mentioned earlier of presenting securing individual rights as a moral imperative but also in the idea that having the right politics is largely a question of conforming to a particular moral code. It is this latter manifestation which has led to ‘calling out’ becoming a far more prevalent practice in recent years

    *Interestingly the Declaration of Human Rights was brought in to replace a defunct declaration protecting the rights of religious minorities as groups rather than individuals.

  40. Sasori says

    I think that it would be good to have a balance between ‘calling out’ sexism etc and the formation of effective political movements that can actually do things. Brands phonecall to a police hotline is the only thing that could be called misogyny by more than a small percentage of people, and even then none of the articles give any context. One of the messages the New Statesman article was sending to people is that if you a don’t adhere closely to a particular kind of language and doctrine then you are going to be attacked. I think this is one of the problems with being on the left is that it has a low retention rate because the kind of ‘PC’ moral culture is so hard to be a part of.

    Laurie Penny’s strange hypocrisy in including in the article (for no reason it seemed) all that stuff about Brand being the kind of person she usually finds hot etc was hilarious and having one of his crimes being that he said that he said yes to guest editing because “a beautiful woman asked me” and talking about ‘beautiful women’ a lot. I think that there should be a call out of the call out pointing that out.
    Penny and Seymour are also arguing with massive strawmen that they seemed to have constructed (with very little information to go on) earlier in the article, they could’ve been talking about 3 people for all I know. Also “Brocalists” is one of the silliest names for anything ever (and is also a gendered ingroup/outgroup term).

    I agree with H. E. Pennypacker about ‘call out culture’ and it’s association with individualist politics, but I don’t think political infighting and ‘call outs’ of this kind are new on the left, the popularity of ‘critsism/self-critisism ‘ in the 70’s new left as a tool for attacking people and factional infighting makes me think that it’s been around for a long time.

  41. says

    Lawksamercy, call-out culture. Why, the very idea of people taking it upon themselves to identify and point out harmful social attitudes! It’s enough to give me the vapors.

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