The other day, I finished Russell Brand’s book, Revolution. Known primarily for his stand-up comedy, Hollywood films, and former high-profile relationship with pop-singer Katy Perry, Russell has significantly withdrawn from the limelight over the years and has instead taken an increasing interest in political activism and reformation. Along with writing Revolution, Russell produced a hilarious and free YouTube series called, The Trews, which lampoons politicians and news correspondents in a sort of low-budget version of The Colbert Report. The Trews lasted about a year until Russell eventually burned himself out in August, 2015. The last episode Russell posted to his channel simply says, “To be continued..”
No surprise here, but the big call to action in Russell’s book, is that if we’re going to fix the all the world’s jarring problems, there needs to be a revolution. Not so obvious however, is what exactly needs revolving. To be fair, Russell does bring up some specifics issues. For example, as a former drug addict, one concern Russell highlights is that, “The war on drugs has been lost.” Instead of criminalizing addicts, which is what police currently do, Russell suggests that government ought to instead provide medical care. Because, incarceration doesn’t actually address the root problem of addiction. Along with drug-policy reform, another huge point Russell makes is on global wealth inequality. His favorite visual example is that if the world's eight-five wealthiest people all boarded a bus, they’d account for more wealth than half the global population, or 3.5 billion people.
I respect Russell’s boldness. All the concerns Russell raises in his book are legitimate and the points he makes are good ones. But as I wrote earlier, it’s not clear to me what we, the readers, are actually supposed to do about it. As romantic as it sounds, I don’t think taking to the streets in an attempt to induce anarchy is a valid option for most people. Russell’s “revolution” needs to happen, but maybe it won’t look like a traditional revolution.
Instead of creating barricades à la Les Miserables, I think what needs to happen is a kind of internal revolution. It’s so tempting to cite external issues for internal discontent, but fixing a squeaky wheel is like buying a chocolate bar. Sure, you might feel good about it for an hour, but then that good feeling sort of goes away, and you’re left with the same pang of discontent you started with, except now you’re five dollars poorer with more sugar in your blood. Suppose for a moment that global wealth was redistributed, and that nobody had to worry about money anymore. Do you think people wouldn’t still naturally cling to status? Do you think we wouldn’t take refuge in material items to satisfy internal desires?
While I’d love to see the opportunity to pursue contentment and fulfilment afforded to all humans, I also wonder if we’re even ready for such a world. There’s a quote from a film I love that says, “If you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” In other words, without an internal revolution where we learn how to be content with what we have now, how will we ever learn to be content once we finally fix what’s broken?
There’s a cyclical nature to all this seeking. The word "revolution," even evokes astronomical images of orbiting planets, forever looping and bound by their gravitational chains. Are we so different from dogs who chase their own tails? Are we not trapped in hedonistic orbit?
In the Hindu religion there's a word for this, “moksha”. The literal translation of moksha means liberation, emancipation, or release from the cycle. And in many ways, I think this is the kind of revolution we actually need. Spare the barricades. I agree with Russell about the existence of corruption and inequality in the world. I accept these as problems worthy and in need of solutions, no matter how small. But I also believe that the best way to go about solving these seemingly ever-present global issues, is to start with the only thing I can change for certain, me.
It’s hard to mold the world to your liking. It’s easier to mold yourself. To chase the tail is to be trapped in the cycle. But, what if we all stopped chasing? I believe it’s possible, I’m certainly going to try. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And to that, all I have to add is, viva la revolución.