Right. Let’s just come out and say it: I’m going to talk about Russell Brand. Or, since this has been done already by this guy, this guy and this guy; I’m going to talk specifically about some of the things that Russell Brand has said. I’m sure you’re all familiar by now with this 4,500-word screed (4,500 words! Who the fuck is his editor? Oh wait. It’s him. Never mind.)
And by that I mean familiar with the fact of its existence, not its content. Because none of you have read it, really, have you? You’ve read the headline, or gotten the gist from a friend. Maybe you’ve persevere to the point where you have to scroll down to read further. But no reasonable person has time to read a 4,500-word editorial which contains sentences like the following:
“Like a tanker way off course due to an imperceptible navigational error at the offset we need only alter our inner longitude.”
“Time may only be a human concept and therefore ultimately unreal, but what is irrefutably real is that this is the time for us to wake up.”
“We now must live in reality, inner and outer. Consciousness itself must change.”
“I will never vote and I don’t think you should, either.”
Woah, wait. Wait. It’s easy to take the piss out of the first three statements (which are typical of the entire article), since they make no attempt at anything beyond meaningless drivel, but that last one is actually quite substantive. I can talk about whether or not voting is worthwhile in a way that I can’t about nautical miscalculation.
To start with, I think Russell Brand is wrong. You should vote. There are many good reasons for doing so. However, there are a few bad ones, too. I’d like to come to his support against a particularly pervasive example of the latter class; since when bad arguments are put forth in support of good propositions, it contributes to the likelihood that those good propositions will collapse, horribly. And I’d much rather that didn’t happen.
Right, here we go. I’m sure you have all heard someone say something like this:
Someone fought and died in war in order that you now have the right to vote, and so you should exercise that right.
This has always baffled me. Exactly which war are we talking about, here? The Civil War of the mid 1600s? Are we meant to get misty-eyed over the thought of Cromwell’s Parliamentarians bravely fighting the evil of Charles II’s Royalists? That doesn’t seem plausible.
No. According to Brand, those who make this objection are talking about the first and second world wars; where, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, an immensely dangerous totalitariasm was defeated at great human cost.
Let’s fine-tune it slightly, shall we? We’re obviously not talking about everyone that fought and died. We’re talking about those that fought and died in service of the winning side. When you think about it, this should be obvious. No-one ever makes the opposite claim, do they? No-one has ever stood outside a polling office, admonishing passing voters thusly: “Do you realise how many German soldiers fought and died to prevent you from doing that?”
From here this line of reasoning becomes increasingly circular, and my headache grows correspondingly more severe. Let’s try and deconstruct a little further. We won the war so you could vote, and you should vote because we won the war.
Right. Here’s the crux of my objection: Shouldn’t the waging of war be a means to a desirable outcome (ie. the defeat of fascism, the preservation of democracy) rather than a justification that that particular outcome is desirable? If that were not the case, we could invade any oil-rich state we so desired, and answer the critics of such an invasion thusly: ‘We sent many soldiers to die so we could get some oil. It’s therefore a good thing that we have oil.’
This, I would submit, is the sort of Might-Is-Right worldview put forth by Thrasymachus in the first book of Plato’s ‘The Republic’, which was subsequently so expertly thwarted by Socrates in the following – wait, hang on, I’m talking like Russell Brand. I can only apologise. We’ve digressed here. This is what happens when you edit yourself. Let’s return to World War II.
Time for a history lesson. It’s November 1940. The respective foreign ministers of Germany and the USSR are in Berlin negotiating a deal that could potentially unite the two powers. After two days of negotiations, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, claims that the British are on the verge of defeat, and puts forward a draft proposal that would bar hostilities between the two nations for ten years, and leave the Nazi war machine entirely free to turn around and kick seven shades of shit out of Britain.
Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, expresses concern regarding, amongst other things, the fates of Turkey and Bulgaria. He also questions why, if the British are losing the war so badly, the negotiations are taking place in an air-raid shelter. The Soviets come up with their own proposal, which begins: “The Soviet government is prepared to accept the draft of the Pact of Four Powers on political cooperation and economic mutual assistance.” When Hitler is told about this, he gets pissy, as he is wont to do. He never replies to the counter-proposal. He then invades the USSR, which ensures his ultimate defeat. What a moron.
Now, if I’ve communicated these events properly, then you should notice a few sobering ‘what ifs’ in there; chief among them being that, had negotiations gone in the other direction, the Axis powers would then almost certainly have conquered the globe. The words ‘Pact of Four Powers’ alone should make you shit yourself, really.
I suppose the question you have to pose to yourself is: Had that happened, would that have any bearing on whether or not parliamentary democracy is a better basis for establishing a government than Nazi-style autocracy? Is your decision on whether or not to vote really dependant on the sort of piddling circumstance I’ve just narrated?
It’s worth reminding yourself that of those soldiers who gave their lives to defeat Hitler, the overwhelming majority were Soviet. A glance at Wikipedia tells me that, during the Second World War, Britain suffered around 383,800 military deaths; while the Soviet Union suffered between nine and fourteen million. Now, does the comparative immensity of this sacrifice have any bearing on your opinion of communism? Not unless you’re an idiot!
The best I can say for this argument is that it should only really be applied to certain sorts of people. People that are already convinced of the merits of voting, but are too lazy to do so. They could do with a reminder, however trite, of the monumental ballache endured in the two world wars. It clearly can’t be applied to people, like Russell Brand, who simply don’t agree that voting is going to have any worthwhile effect and so abstain from doing so.
Now, this should go without saying: the mere fact that someone was willing to fight and die for an ideal is no real measure of the value of that ideal. So, let’s take our statement and alter it, so that it might avoid my objections:
Millions of people fought and died so that you’d have the chance to vote, and their sacrifice was worthwhile for the following reasons…
Which one could then go on to elucidate. But really, if one were to say this, then the first half of the statement could be entirely dispensed with. You need only state the reasons.
I’m not going to do that here, though. I’ve already spent twelve hundred words attempting to make a single point. Who do you think I am, Russell Brand? Maybe I’ll have more on this subject, if it should ever become topical again.