« Russell Brand & our political culture | Main | On false consensus »

October 27, 2014


Luis Enrique

Don't be disheartened. We all hit the interweb looking for distraction, and celebrity gossip is more fun to read than an economics text book. I don't think we need to find that aspect of human nature too deplorable. Plus people comment when they have something they want to say - not when they judge the topic to be important.

Speaking for myself, I often do not comment on your best blogs because I don't have a nit to pick.

Jim M.

"Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat"

(Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes)

- Bertolt Brecht ... Leben des Galilei

I would agree that the media/celeb world has influence over the position of the Overton window, and that it is easier for a Russell Brand -type figure to steer the public conversation to where it might be needed than for a blog to do so. [even a blog as fine as this one]

As a means of engaging the public in an important debate it does, however, strike me as akin to lighting a stubbornly-resisting fire by pouring petrol on it.

Icarus Green

I think at core Chris, you're stumbling upon the problem that not everyone is an intellectual, and thus not open to intellectual arguments.

I think we forget in our little bubbles sometimes the fact that a good chunk of people (from research I've seen) don't know how to calculate 10% of something, even after being given a calculator, or that they don't read academic papers or journals evryday and read The National Enquirer to relax instead or that the vast majority of people don't even think about politics too deeply, and when they do its quite simplistic platitudes like "they're all in it for themselves" and "let's throw them all out" etc.

There's one argument that the right used to use back in the early 20th century and before that basically questioned why leftists like you or me stick up for the 'unwashed masses' or people that are too "stupid" or "undeserving" of concern or aid. This basic argument to me is actually much more powerful than most of the "pro-small business" triangulation for getting tax cuts for the rich or complex math that conservative priests use.

I think basically I answer this this way: as liberals we kind of have a general form in our head of the average man and woman and think positively of these people. Thats why we have no problem sticking up for them and trying to make things better for them. On the other hand conservatives have negative form in their heads when they think about the proles. All economic, social and political theory leads from this basic construct.

I'm going to flesh this out fully someday, but suffice to say, one of the greatest disappointments I as a liberal could have is realizing the man on the street is usually a Sun reading reactionary simpleton asshole or that the average woman woman is a X factor watching dittohead.

The truth is somewhere in between.


I’m interested in your opinion on the opinions you provoke from your readers. I have to own up to a tendency to look for heroes. Impotent anger, powerlessness and drought, does that. I’ve bookmarked Matt as a possible you’re already bookmarked of course; but not guilty of celebrity worship.

Do people take their agenda from the media? Don’t people either find their agenda reflected and move on, or question their agenda as a consequence of witnessing serious discourse?

I don’t know, but you seem to be blaming readers, occasional responders, for jumping in on mass when, by chance, the lack of time for serious, difficult, and challenging discussion on MSM gets a mention. Doesn’t this tell of a constituency not being served by the fourth estate, rather than a constituency which needs to be berated for its failings?


The great difficulty here is that we have to create a better world, drag people kicking and screaming into it (voir all the social revolutions,the "end" of slavery, women's rights etc) and once there, the people never know how they got there, so they assume that this new world is the norm. Until a new norm comes up and the process is repeated.


More Brecht:

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”


On the plus side, what Russell Brand says or thinks is largely irrelevant to the lives of most people. The media is slanted towards certain views of the world anyway. The point is if we want to change the way people see the world (i.e. to change it), a blog is just one way. Getting out there and talking to people face to face is another(especially at election times when they are more likely to be receptive to 'politics'). Nil desperandum.

Ralph Musgrave

The BBC should be taken over by Hello magazine, and a new TV channel should be set up to do what the BBC was originally supposed to do: produce stuff for people with a concentration span of more than 3 seconds..:-)

Dave Timoney

Cheer up. Roughly 2/3rds of all Web traffic comes froms bots (automated scripts) rather than humans. A lot of these are scrapers, i.e. they're looking for fresh content on popular subjects that can be copied and used as clickbait.

In other words, Web traffic is often a Keynesian beauty contest, where popularity reflects advertisers second-guessing of popularity. As well as the media-celeb-tribal frame, the medium also serves to condition the message.

If you write a post on weight-loss you'll see a spike in hits, but this doesn't mean your readership obsess about their weight, so I'd advise against the pessimism of assuming that we actually give a toss about Russell Brand's hippy-dippy nostrums or Owen Jones's fact-checking abilities.

Deviation From The Mean

"There's one argument that the right used to use back in the early 20th century and before that basically questioned why leftists like you or me stick up for the 'unwashed masses' or people that are too "stupid" or "undeserving" of concern or aid"

The basic argument against this is that it's bollocks of course. And often the working classes are far more clued up than the 'liberal' intellectuals'.

The main reason people are disengaged from politics is that the whole system is built so that is the case. There is a chasm between the people who vote and the careerists who keep the show on the road, to paraphrase Joan Robinson.

I am sure this site was complaining about a lack of art representing the austerity society due to the number of privately educated people in the Arts. Now comes this article attacking art getting engaged in austerity.

Make up your fucking mind.

Simon Nicholas

Maybe the volume of response to your post was due to the RB ingredient - even the FT online picked up on it. I wouldn't worry about it...it's better than being ignored.

Chris Purnell

When I was in local politics my basic political experience was that people were interested in 10 feet either side of their gate. Fanatics held wider visionary views about Council Tax for example. Parks occurred fairly often and complaints about 'Paying for other people's children to go to school'. Rock on Brand with your boyish naivety.


I love/live to learn, but very few people do. If you spend your days in an academic environment or a think tank, you are surrounded by people who value learning. This is actually a very rare thing. For most people, learning actually seems to be painful.


I don't understand how you can lump Russell Brand and celebrities together with anyone else someone might look up to. Chavez, for example, for all his flaws, put his life on the line to fight for his ideals in Venezuela. We should admire that. But what is there to admire about Russell Brand?

Peter Risdon

The problem, or rather the good news, is that people don't flock to the more serious posts because they're not interested in revolutionary politics. In the same way that most patriotic people reject the BNP and most Muslims reject violent Jihad, most of the left rejects revolution, or the megalomaniacal urge to reshape society and dominate other people. And thank goodness for that.


It's partly the filtering mechanisms of the internet- and our society in general. Although I occasionally read your blog, I found that particular post of yours- and responded to it- due to an article I was reading on Brand. So you got a big boost of readers (and more attention to your blog in general) through that post. I think you're getting a remarkable amount of attention, actually, for the kind material you usually post. Several of my favorite blogs- particularly the Limited Inc. on blogspot by Roger Gathman (who posts such wonderful comments on Mark Thoma's blog, among others) get almost no comments.

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