So, Russell Brand got a grilling from Jeremy Paxman last night, as the comedian/actor is about his guest editing a political magazine called The New Statesman. In the interview, he talked about why he didn’t vote in our current “broken” system, but he also did a very interesting thing. He said:
“I have more impact at Westham United, cheering them on, and they lost to city. Sad.”
One of the most unpopular things that I have ever said is “I hate football”. Not American football (which deserves a whole separate post), but good, old-fashioned f.o.o.t.b.a.l.l., which has nothing to do with a word beginning in S and rhyming with “rocker” (we invented English so the F-word is ours. Sorry NFL fans!)
Human beings seem to have this tribal need to form groups, to wear different coloured shirts, and shout a lot at each other, whether it’s at the stadium, or simply in the pub watching the game on TV. “We won!” they shout. “We lost” they cry. Yet who is really winning in this situation?
At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I believe that without watching football, without that “opiate of the masses” used to fill time, people would be less distracted from what is really going on in our world today. Spectator sports like football, meaningless soap operas, facebook; I’m not sure it they were “designed” to with the idea of distracting us from the political system, but that is their current role. We are our own worst enemies. We chain ourselves in our ignorance.
The fatal flaw of democracy is that people are so easily tricked and manipulated. Elections and political posturing are seeming endless popularity contests, and whoever can lie most convincingly is deemed the winner. How politics and democratic institutions work is not taught in state schools in any meaningful way. If our leaders wanted an informed population, they would be teaching children from as young as 10 about parliament and how our government functions. But they don’t. Leaving us with an electorate who has a binary understanding of how the system works, often voting “red” or voting “blue” based on an inherited allegiance, rather an assessment of the policies and how they affect us today. You support “City” because your father did, and you vote for party X for the same reason.
It’s depressing to read the news because you feel like you can do nothing about it. The environment, global hunger, the powerless “underclass” in our own so-called rich countries… “I can’t even get my bank to refund the ridiculous charges. How am I supposed to do anything about this?” we think.
But there is an answer. Reading. Libraries. And talking. But not about footballl.
Universities do not hold the key to knowledge. What they hold is books, and what they organise is times for people to talk about those books and learn from each other, which they call “tutorials”. Professors need money to eat, so they don’t put their lectures online for free (unless they are like drug dealers giving free samples but then no more.)
It wasn’t so long ago that “the powers that be” did not want a literate population. If people could read for themselves, then they could start interpreting the Bible (the rule book at that time) for themselves, and that was dangerous. But now we have come full circle. Literacy levels are higher than ever before, yet we spend all our time feeding our own vanity on social networks, or filling our minds with the televisorial equivalent of junk food.
So, if you didn’t get the opportunity to go to university, read. And if you went to university, read. Read as much as you can, because by reading you can learn more about the world than you can by your own personal experience; the act of reading allows you to contemplate both sides of an argument, walk a day in someone else’s shoes, and to learn how to make up your own mind without relying on someone else to form an opinion FOR you.