Wikipedia describes Russell Brand as an English comedian, actor, columnist and radio and television host. He has cultivated an image as a flamboyant personality, difficult to gauge sometimes but not afraid to stir up controversy. In 2015, his book Revolution appeared in a Dutch translation. In hilarious fashion, the book skewers the puppets and paper tigers of our conformist era, and argues that a revolution is not only inevitable, but will also be fun.
Reading Russell Brand’s Revolution, I have a mental image of his typing at the velocity of a Japanese high-speed train., With exceptional acuity and apparent ease, he interweaves his own life and experiences with reflections on modern society. The fact that he is also willing to joke about himself makes the book an enjoyable read.
Brand’s mission in writing this book was to make his readers feel better, to offer them a solution to the way they feel the moment they start reading his book. The conviction that he will succeed stems from the fact that he was able to make himself feel better, having managed to kick an alcohol and drug habit and all the destructive behaviours that came along with it.
Brand draws on a diverse cast to achieve this objective, including Edward Slingerland, George Orwell, Thomas Piketty, Noami Klein, Gandhi, James Goldsmith and Graeber, to name a few. In the book, Brand calls for the redistribution of money and power, to which end we should attack the people and the institutions that have it. According to Brand, we need to kill the bad companies.
Currently, the hundred largest corporations in the world are clocking seven trillion dollars in revenues and have amassed assets worth ten trillion dollars. This wealth enables them to control governments through lobbying and making donations and paying for academic research that ensures the “scientific” worldview matches up with their own objectives.
Most important, they dominate our consciousness by covering our shared spaces and media with their peculiar philosophies, like graffiti. According to Oxfam, a bus crammed with the 85 richest people in the world would be worth more than the wealth of half the world’s population—more than 3.5 billion people—combined.
Our system is broken. The gross national product (GNP)—our litmus test for the health of any given country—is an imperfect and even inane instrument. It exalts nations where crime and cancer are widespread because solving these problems requires industry and expenditure. The qualities that the GNP measures and treats as indicators of success are not only irrelevant to the well-being of society, they actually have an adverse effect on it. The king of Bhutan has already pulled the plug on this system and is using a yardstick that factors in the happiness of people in his country.
Brand also rails against a slough of other issues, such as the number of homeless veterans in the US who served their country so faithfully. And the fact that apples cultivated in Great Britain are flown to South Africa to be washed and polished and then flown back to be sold and eaten where they started. Points like these make his call for a revolution understandable and even appealing. We need to attain a state of unforced concentration. A state in which we focus our thoughts on our highest achievable collective goal and tune out all irrelevant, negative and distracting information. This is crucial because, according to Brand, our current state is one where we are trapped on the inside, hypnotised on the outside and thereby denying ourselves access to inner peace and outer harmony.
After reading this book, I do feel better, just as Brand intended. Yet in a way that is different to what I expected when I first read his intention. Limited though my influence may be, I feel revved up to give society a push in the right direction where possible. And also eager to read more of Brand’s books.
Mireille Schrijnemaekers is a marketing consultant and interim manager at Zelino BV and has 20 years’ working experience at large and international organisations including Vodafone, EY, Capgemini, KPN, Pon, Eurofiber and SNS Bank. Read more of her reviews, in Dutch, here.