devising a global utopian systems and other things to do in hotel rooms: thoughts on the jeremy paxman russell brand interview

i have more than once come across those who believe that if you don’t vote you forfeit all claim to political credence. this argument bothers me for similar reasons that it bothers Brand, it reduces all political engagement to a line up at a booth in a high school gym every few years. on a certain level you are exercising a choice, but a choice that been prescribed to a degree that severely mitigates your individual level of expression. a most probably fallacious comparison would be if you arrive at a cinema and ask what’s playing only to have the attendant at the counter responds, “’big momma’s house 4: the quest for peace’, ‘win a date with Tom Berenger’, and ‘the slow and lugubrious’”. dejected and disappointed you return home with your 13.75$ unspent. does this make you some sort of cinephobe? hardly, if anything you most likely hold the medium in high esteem. now, in some nightmare universe where these were the only three movies, ever, and were continually being played, with perhaps a redux released every four years, you might stop going to the movies all together. would that be a sign of your apathy towards the medium or a reflexive response to the content the medium delivers? worse, would others meet your opinion on film with contempt because ‘bm:4’ was not worthy of your consideration? yet when the established political system churns out their set of candidates for our chosing there is the tacit implication that they represent, not only the best, but the entirety of the viable political spectrum. therefore, anything or anyone outside this false spectrum is by definition not politically viable, not in any serious way at least. you are allowed to hate certain players but never the game. any objection of that magnitude is tantamount to poor sportsmanship.
i still believe you should vote. i believe it was Winston Churchill who said, “democracy is the worst form of government, full stop. now if you will excuse me i’m late for a sausage luncheon.” Aristotle believed it to be the lowest form of government, the highest being aristocracy. “why let the needy rule as opposed to the best? too much talk of goats and goat related inequities” he was known to mumble in that place with the pillars. though not perfect, democracy is the best system we have so far. frankly, arguing about alternatives seems a bit academic or at least premature. Brand argues that voting makes you tacitly complicit in the system. is it not possible to vote and also be explicitly against the system? can you not vote for the member of parliament most aligned with your anarchist views and also participate in an anarchist group on the weekends? sure its hypocritical, but you’re a member of an anarchist group for pete’s sake. i believe that hypocrisy is underrated. what it lacks in authenticity it makes up for in sheer efficiency. you really can get so much done. if you want to affect real change as opposed to merely holding the moral high ground of ‘being right’, cognitive dissonance is the only way to go. a useful attitude to adopt is to see voting as one facet of a larger spectrum of political action. it is only when seen as the end all and be all of political participation that voting becomes merely what Brand refers to as a release valve. at worst, casting a ballot ever few years absolves people of any pangs of responsibility that might arise as they watch the state of affairs worsen around them. at worst, it is the sum total of political engagement; at best, the beginning.
the true danger though with the argument that voting is a prerequisite for political credence is that it conflates political power with political authority. the whole thrust of Paxman’s line of question is what qualifies Brand, or gives him the right, to be the guest editor of The New Statesman. in essence, Paxman is asking Brand the rather specious question of ‘do you think you deserve to do this?’. my problem with employing the language of rights is the implicit power structure the language creates. rights are always ‘won’, ‘awarded’, or ‘given’. this must mean that there is something or someone who gives, awards, or deems the winner. the true agency then remains in the hands of this nebulous adjudicator and the recipient of this right merely exercises it at the munificence of those in charge. it is part and parcel of the delusion that the political system is a big family unit. you may be allowed to use dad’s car, but it’s still dad’s car and you are using it merely by his permission. it is not freedom but merely an expanded set of options hemmed in by your father’s judgement. the language of power, on the other hand, is ‘taken’, ‘wielded’, ‘exerted’. think of that visceral feeling of independence you experienced as a teenager. for the first time you were interacting with the world as a separate entity outside the family unit. that moment when you stopped being scared of the older kids who hung out in the park. they always made you nervous because they seemed to be aware of, but not quite under, the authority your parents represented. then one night you realised you were those older kids. though just a taste, that power is so thrilling because it is deeply and intrinsically personal and innate. it is more than an expansion of permission but a realisation that permission is not necessary. the true beauty is that this creative power can be combined with the power of others into ways that often end in things that couldn’t be imagined before you started. at that age it’s usually a bitchin kegger but i’m limited by my choice of analogy. reduce that kinetic adaptive power into something as obsequious as ‘rights’ and you limit that power’s potential. all right, but down that molotov, i shouldn’t have used munificence. the m word always gets people riled up. the point is that the political system is not your dad. don’t wait for someone to give you the right, as Brand put it, just take it.

and just as addendum added for additional amusement:
Brand at one point accuses Paxman of confusing seriousness with solemnity, here’s what John Cleese had to say about it:

 

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