Everyone has been having a pop at Russell Brand. Focusing upon his foibles, however, serves to distract us from some fundamental defects of our political culture.
Take these quotes from him:
The economy is just a metaphorical device, it’s not real, that’s why it’s got the word con in it.
I’m not supposed to get my head around economics, none of us are, it’s designed to be obtuse. Look at those f***ing NASDAQ, FTSE, Dow Jones things...
I ain’t got time for a bloody graph… This is the kind of stuff that people like you use to confuse people like us.
These show that Sunny is right: Brand represents "anti-intellectualism on an epic scale".
Which poses the question: why, then, is he not being simply ignored as we would any other embarrassment?
Part of the answer is that we live not in a meritocracy but a celebocracy. Brand hasn't got a big publishing deal, acres of publicity and an invitation onto Newsnight because of the brilliance of his ideas but simply because he's a big celebrity - and as Nick says, TV bosses believe that the punters want celebs with everything.
In this respect, Brand is, well, a powerful brand. He is - in those words which Shoreditich twats regard as terms of commendation and the rest of us as a red light warning of undiluted bullshit - "cool and edgy". TV execs want him for the same reason middle-class teenagers go on gap years to Thailand or on Duke of Edinburgh award schemes; he offers a slight frisson of peril without actually offering any serious danger; I suspect this also helps explain Nigel Farage's appeal to the BBC.
It would, however, be silly to pretend that Brand is unique in his anti-intellectualism. Our ruling class - which includes the BBC and Labour party as well as the Tories - have created a hyperreal economy which obsesses over non-problems such as "the deficit" and immigration to the exclusion of truth and intellectual effort.
But the left is also at fault here. The question which Brand cannot answer - "replace capitalism with what?" - is also one to which it has little answer.
Any serious revolution would, of course, disempower political and business elites and empower people. Which raises many questions: why is there so little popular demand for worker management or even direct democracy? How do we promote anti-managerialism? Could we achieve worker democracy without weakening incentives to innovate? What institutions do we need to create a healthy deliberative democracy rather than debased populism?
Of course, people have been working on questions such as these for years but their efforts have, to put it mildly, not greatly entered the mainstream of the British left. Instead, as I complained nine years ago, much of the Left seem to prefer slogans and self-righteousness to serious thinking.
Just as some plants thrive in arid conditions, so Russell Brand thrives in our intellectual desert. Pointing to the ugliness of this plant, however, should not distract us from the fact that our biggest problem is our anti-intellectual political climate.