Activism that truly effects change has to work through multiple channels, to “talk in different registers” as Michael Apple says. Michael is a famous American academic, known for his leftist political views and the promotion of critical and democratic education. Russell Brand is also famous for his political, anti-capitalism views, and has the added bonus of being famous as a British comedian and actor. I have recently read a book from each of these authors and have been struck by the similarity in content and passion, whilst being totally opposite in style and intended audience.
Michael Apple’s book, Can education change society?, discusses issues of inequality, democracy and education in thorough detail, drawing on research, personal experience and his extensive knowledge of critical education and philosophy. The arguments are well laid out and logically explained.
On the other hand, Russell Brand’s book, Revolution, discusses issues of inequality, democracy and spirituality, often in a broad brush style, as I discussed in an earlier post. He draws on personal experience, discussions with knowledgeable activists, and examples from current affairs. His style is meandering, a visual/verbal comedy act written down.
Yet to get a copy of Michael’s book, I had to order it online; whereas for Russell’s book, I got my copy from the local NZ bookseller. Russell’s reach is therefore going to be much wider than that of Michael, and he brings much the same message to a more ‘popular’ audience. I think this is a good thing. Russell’s book might be criticised for not being academic enough or well written enough, but it is being read, and being read by people who would not read Michael’s book. Wide awareness and media attention is necessary for effective activism, and Russell stands on the shoulders of other academics to create this awareness and attention. Further, in a truly inclusive and democratic dialogue, everyone’s views should be accepted – not just those that are squeezed into a particular presentation format.
To show how similar the views of Michael Apple and Russell Brand are, here are a few quotes from their respective books.
They both are passionate about inequality in our societies:
We live in society where every day millions of people are denied what should be their rights to respectful employment at a respectful wage, health care, decent housing, schools that are well-funded and respectful both to the teachers and students who go to them and to the communities in which they are based, a respectful treatment of their histories and cultures, and a government that doesn’t lie – and here I must stop myself because the list gets larger and larger and my anger increases. (Apple, 2013, p. 22)
The system that exploits us cannot function without us – without our labour, without our compliance, without our consent. If we want a society in which people with insufficient resources ae given what they are owed, where are we to look for recompense? To other people who also have nothing? The weak? The dispossessed? People who have arrived here more recently than we have? Or ought we be looking to organisations that have abundance? Excess. Wealth. … The capitalist system is not the result of our collective greed; it is the manifestation of the greed of a few and the manipulation of many. (Brand, 2014, pp. 79-80)
They both reject being positioned only as consumers:
For Freire, then, the equality promised by “we are all consumers” – and its accompanying depoliticization and its creation of the possessive individual – needs to be rejected. (Apple, 2013, p. 29) (It is clear that this is a statement Michael Apple agrees with).
We have been segregated and severed, from each other and even from ourselves. We have been told that freedom is the ability to pursue petty, trivial desires when true freedom is freedom from those petty, trivial desires. (Brand, 2014, p. 33)
Both refer to Noam Chomsky’s critique of American society and politics:
[A]n American empire has functioned as a source not only of liberation but of domination, collusion, and corruption internationally (Chomsky, 2003). (Apple, 2013, p. 60)
Noam Chomsky, Adam Curtis and The Godfather films have all been trying to tell us … that ‘America’ is not a land mass, a country, some stars ‘n’ stripes and a song. It is a violent mad gang enforcing the interests of its corporate clients onto a terrified globe. (Brand, 2014, p. 285)
They both feel that the current democratic systems are superficial and should be ‘deepened’:
The early years of the twenty-first century have brought us unfettered capitalism which fuels market tyrannies and massive inequalities on a truly global scale (Davis, 2006). “Democracy” is resurgent at the same time, but it all too often becomes a thin veil for the interests of the globally and locally powerful and for disenfranchisement, mendacity, and national and international violence (Burawoy, 2005, p. 260). (Apple, 2013, pp. 39-40)
I feel the manner in which we construct our social organisations is integral. Rather than just eradicating the systems, we could also consider adjusting them to authentically fulfil their stated roles … David Graeber said the radical alternative that we should be aiming towards is ‘democracy’, because whatever it is that we’re toiling under now, it is not democracy. Democracy means if enough people want a fairer society, with more sharing, well-supported institutions and less exploitation by organisations that do not contribute, then their elected representatives will ensure that it is enacted. I suppose that corruption by definition is a deviation, a perversion from the intended path.
Finally, each has a vision for the future based on multiple empowered groups and a socially just society; Michael Apple talking about the activist project, and Russell Brand talking about societal organisation:
Can education change society? The answer can be “Yes”. But if and only if what we do is grounded in larger projects, respectful of our differences, connected to the process of building and defending decentered unities that will give us collective strength, and mindful that the path will be long and difficult. (Apple, 2014, p. 165)
Obviously our ultimate aim is to live in self-governing, full autonomous, ecologically responsible, egalitarian communities. (Brand, 2014, p. 80)