Russel Brand apparently has an autobiography out; I haven’t seen it, nor am I at all interested in reading it, but Nick Cohen has. It’s titled Revolution, and this sort of says it all about that.
His book tells us much about him and little about the rest of humanity. Brand says that he is qualified to lead a global transformation, not because of the quality of his thought, but because he has transformed his private life. “I may not have overthrown a government. But [I have] navigated myself from one set of feelings where drinking and drugs were my only solution to a state where I never drink or take drugs.” It is perhaps too easy to reply: “Well, bully for you.” I accept that freeing yourself from addiction and finding inner peace can have more beneficial effect than any political programme the powerful can implement. But Brand is offering his Beverly Hills Buddhism as a political programme, not a self-help guide. Everything is corrupt, his theory runs. All politicians are the same. Reforms won’t do, and no one can expect him to relinquish his fortune until there has been “systemic change on a global scale” (a useful condition that last one).
The systemic change that means the most to Brand is an embrace of meditation and pantheism. The greatest villain of Revolution is not a super-rich financier but Richard Dawkins. Brand denounces him as a “menopausal” proponent of “atheistic tyranny” because Dawkins denies the existence of the supernatural. He pulls a succession of shabby tricks to bolster his claim that religion does not authorise oppression. Anyone who claims that Jesus, Allah, Krishna or the fountainhead of any other religion endorses homophobia instead of the “union of all mankind” is “on a massive blag”, he says. Brand has to ignore Leviticus’s edict that the punishment for men who sleep with other men is death, St Paul’s hysterics about lesbianism and the hadiths that have Muhammad saying that the punishment for sodomy is death by stoning. In other words, he has to ignore several millennia of real and continuing religious repression, so he can make his spiritualism sound emancipatory rather than cranky.
You might disagree with Dawkins on many things, but he is not an “atheistic tyrant” — and neither am I, while just as ferociously anti-religious. I’m also anti-spirituality, so when I see a book by a minor celebrity (best known for his libertine life style) touting “revolution” while also praising spirituality, I see a deeply fractured set of incoherent contradictions. Spirituality is a force for complacency; it’s what our masters have always used to keep the people content. Don’t rock the boat, or you won’t get your reward in heaven! Find peace in your poverty — your suffering makes you a good person! Someday, the rising of the proletariat will make everyone’s life perfect.
Wrong. There is no heaven, no reward after death but oblivion. Pain doesn’t make you better — people are people, some good, some bad, most in-between, and we need to make it possible for everyone to live their lives with reasonable material circumstances. And don’t be fooled that great sacrifices now will lead to great rewards, somehow, in a distant future — work for a better world now.
And don’t be fooled. “Spirituality” is a tool much loved by your corporate masters.
When I go to yoga, I’m often surrounded by wealthy white women who can afford expensive classes and Lululemon threads. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see exclamations of bourgeois spirituality (“Staying at the Waldorf tonight! #gratitude #blessed #100happydays #livelife”). Moreover, my actor friends seem to use karma and positivity as tools to help them achieve commercial success.
We might call this a belief in spiritual meritocracy. The implicit idea here is that our professional and financial growth depends on our spiritual merit, not on the presence or absence of social structures and biases. We are told that if we are grateful enough, if we put enough happy energy into the universe, then we will be rewarded with material wealth and earthly pleasures. (Think “The Secret.”) We are told that we actually can have it all: a rich spiritual life, leading to a rich material life.
I’m no fan of Zizek, but he’s right on this one thing:
It’s times like these when I am reminded of Slavoj Zizek’s summary dismissal of “Western Buddhism.” Zizek cautions that while meditation may seem to come from an edgy counterculture, in fact Americans practice it in a way that is often consistent with consumerist capitalism:
“… although ‘Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement … One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the ‘opium of the people,’ as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity … ”
In other words, rather than helping yogis become more socially conscious spiritual warriors, Buddhist meditation can get hijacked by the status quo. It only brings us a shallow peace that makes us less likely to question what counts as normal.
I’m not just picking on Buddhism. All religions are foolish and dangerous, cultivating an unwarranted deference to faith and spirituality. Buddhism can be a salve for the comfortable and a rationalization for the uncomfortable, but so can Christianity. In fact, mainly what we see in modern Christianity is a lot of rich people telling poor people to be content with their lot, and give use more of your money — and the most galling side of the religion are pious businessmen.
I want to say upfront that I believe in God and that there is design to the world and the people in it. For those of you who don’t believe this, I am asking you to allow me to hold these assumptions temporarily for specific reasons that will hopefully become clear. The purpose of this article is not to convert anyone; it is to build some logic into why, for me, the Bible is the best business book I have read.
Jesus did not rise from the dead, but if any outrage could stir a resurrection, that ought to do it. The Bible is now a tool for capitalism. Why? Because when you rest your reason on a belief in things unseen, but devoutly to be desired, you’ve completely stripped your gears and anything goes, and everything is completely ineffectual.
But back to Russell Brand. He has a new cause.
— Russell Brand (@rustyrockets) June 1, 2013
David Icke, lizard people from outer space Icke? This is where spirituality takes you.