nihilismˈ noun 1. the rejection of all political, religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless. “Insistence that man is a futile being”. synonyms: negativity, cynicism, pessimism; rejection, repudiation, renunciation, denial, abnegation; disbelief, non-belief, unbelief, scepticism, lack of conviction, absence of moral values, agnosticism, atheism, non-theism.
The road to nowhere, dissolution. In short, it’s the absence of belief in anything meaningful, positive, celebratory or decent. No acknowledgement of our remarkable potential as human beings. No faith in anything – it’s grubby, and leaves you groundless, rootless, unprincipled and in a no-place, with no escape.
Russell Brand is a “trendy” nihilist. However, this is not simply another article about Brand, but rather, I want to use this as an opportunity for discussing critical thinking. Brand is as good a case as any to use to explore this and propaganda techniques.
My friend, Charles Britton, commented on an article I wrote about the Russell Brand interview with Jeremy Paxman, and it’s a brilliant comment, because it shows a step-by-step process of critical thinking and analysis that exposes something that many seem to have have missed: an absence. A void. Brand used a lot of words that say nothing at all. Here is the comment:
“When I saw the argument between Russell Brand and Paxman, there were things he said that were clever, and which I liked and there seemed to be a real passion. Apart from the not voting, I thought, I couldn’t agree with that. And apart from the revolution idea because a) they are bloody, b) you don’t know who’ll you’ll end up with in charge (you may even lose the vote), and c) we do have the vote. If there were enough of a groundswell of anger about how we are being treated to spark a revolution, then it would show in how people voted (and how we campaigned). We’d vote out the bastards without needing a revolution!
(I’m fairly certain that if people can’t be bothered voting, they won’t be bringing on a full-blown revolution any time soon either. Anyone out there got one booked? Please do pencil me in.)
“I still liked some other things he said. Apart from the implication that the parties are all the same. That’s the kind of thing you hear from most of the ”cutting-edge” (aggressive and politically ignorant) stand-ups on TV panel shows and celebs guesting on Question Time. Sadly, this blanket cynicism tends to win-over the politically illiterate of the crowd. Eventually I realised that there wasn’t really anything much in his statements apart from a certain confident, [apparently] eloquent style. I’m left confused by this, wondering why his Newsnight interview was so “sensational”!
I have also pondered why Brand has such undeserved attention at the moment, and why some seem to think he had something to say, I clearly missed something, so I studied his interview with Paxman carefully. One thing that really struck me is that Brand completely failed to recognise and acknowledge that life wasn’t the same under the last government.
We didn’t have austerity, there were not thousands of sick and disabled people dying, and there was no substantial increase of absolute poverty and wealth inequalities under the Labour government, because of their policies, but these things are happening now.
Labour created human rights and equality policies, and the Tories are steadily unravelling those. Only the wealthy, and indifferent nihilists can afford imperviousness regarding the fundamental contrasts of Labour and Conservative governments. Brand’s self-serving claim that “they are all the same” only echoes what many of the most disruptive, aggressive and very divisive anarchists, militant greens, narxists and trotskyites have been using to misinform anyone who will listen. But a look at the differences in policies shows clearly that there are fundamental differences between the Conservatives and Labour. (For example, see here: Political Parties – NOT all as bad as each other).
So why would Brand or anyone else, for that matter, offer such a defeatist and dangerous idea up – that voting is futile – especially when the consequence is likely to be further divisions amongst those on the left, whilst the right-wing supporters, who ALWAYS vote, will simply ensure we have another Tory government in office in 2015?
How will that help the situation Brand outlined and criticised? And why is it ever okay to advocate no action? How about encouraging people to take some responsibility for how things are, and to work together to change things for the better?
I’ve written elsewhere about Brand’s narcissism and a fundamental lack of concern for others. As empathy, emotional sustenance and support, solidarity, loyalty, and a sense of belonging all become relics of a fast receding past due to the policies of the Tory-led Government, which act upon citizens as if they were objects, rather than serving them, as human subjects, the mass victims of anomic trauma put up as primitive, last resort narcissistic defences.
These, in turn, only exacerbate the very traumatic conditions, social dislocations, and experiences that necessitated their deployment in the first place. But our ability to organise, self-assemble, and act in co-operation and unison is in jeopardy, as is our future as a society, yet Brand advocated no action.
But some people promote themselves, making a lot of money from “criticising” the status quo, and Brand isn’t alone in being privately invested in how things are whilst publicly claiming otherwise.
Brand used recognisble propaganda techniques in his interview with Paxman, that signpost people to a variety of typified meanings, without actually meaningfully exploring any of them, using superficial Buzzwords (and phrases,) and Glittering Generalities.
The narrative isn’t coherent and meaningful, has no real depth, but what Brand does very well is implies – “signposts” you – via common stock phrases, creating the impression he understands and sees the world as you do. He creates a faux sense of rapport by doing so. But if you look elsewhere, the clues about Brand are there, in his books, articles and other interviews. It soon becomes clear that he does not connect with people, he doesn’t seem to relate. He generally seems to see others as a means to his own ends, and tends to exploit them. Those that have a joke at the expense of others have little empathy, and tend to be unsurprisingly exploitative and cruel.
That’s all Brand does, and even in the interview with Paxman, when he was asked something he couldn’t answer, he resorted to talking the piss out of Paxman.
It’s worth bearing in mind that when someone speaks or writes, they are trying to convince you of something. Ask yourself what it is that they want you to believe, then analyse their basic proposition carefully. Examine what they are saying, look for consistency, coherence, reasoning and logic, and look for the evidence to support the proposition.
Analyse what he actually said – there is NO proposition there at all, he used a lot of words to say nothing – it really is a cul-de-sac. Buzzwords and phrases are a propaganda technique to shape people’s perception, and persuade them that you “know” about their lives, situation and that you have insight.
Management jargon is an example – the familiarity of the words and phrases lulls you and fools you into feeling some important recognition has been made.
Here are some of the buzzwords and phrases Brand used to get your attention, gain your credibility, admiration, create a false sense of rapport; people, power, hierarchical, paradigm, serves a few people, humanity, alternate, alternate political systems, destroy the planet, economic disparity, needs of the people, treachery, deceit, political class, disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent, underclass, represented, social conditions, undeserved underclass, impact, but that’s all just semantics really, political or corporate elites, serve the population, currently, public dissatisfaction.
We have all used these words and phrases, but we have put them together in structured and meaningful comments, with an aim. Brand didn’t do that.
Glittering Generalities is a propaganda technique, arises very often in politics and political propaganda. Glittering generalities are words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts.
When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved. Brand made use of these Glittering Generalities; socialist, egalitarian, massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, massive responsibility for energy companies, environment, profit is a filthy word, global utopian system, genuine option (amongst several others).
The whole dialogue is a propaganda vehicle that aims to deliver one message: there’s no point voting. Go back to sleep. There are identifiable dark fifth column ideologies of nihilism (and related forms of anarchism) which have steadily gained popularity among some of the far-left here in the UK. Que sera sera. Idealism often morphs into cynicism.
These ideologies reflect anti-values of defeatism, hopelessness, rejection of democracy, and organised government. What a deadly sedative – a very poisonous narcotic for a nation that desperately needs to rekindle respect for human rights, equality, and shared societal values of co-operation, compassion, hope, mutual support and community.
Nihilism is so dangerous because it is a glib, superficial and reactionary response that fundamentally attacks the very worth of humanity itself – because it’s based on the view that nothing really matters, everything is meaningless, nothing and no-one has any real worth, value or meaning.
Nihilism is a spiralling vortex of wretched and miserable relativism. It leaves people groundless and rootless. Que sera sera.
But we have a responsibility to take an interest in our lives, and the plight of others, regardless of our view of “human nature”.
The is /ought distinction highlights that there’s a fundamental difference between descriptive and prescriptive statements. As conscious beings with at least a degree of free-will, we can hoist our selves out of apathy by learning from consequences, by our empathy and concern for others, by our good will and by our conscious intent.
We are not cultural dupes – determined by social structure, or by our biology, sure, we are influenced by these, and a little constrained by them, but we are also capable of transcending these constraints – we are so much greater than that, or at least we have the potential to be so.
Conservatives don’t value such human potential: they tend formulate policy to squash it, curtail it, they stand against the tide of social evolution. Regressive ideology, authoritarian principles.
There is a tangible link with nihilism, and the egocentricity of psychopathy. First of all, psychopaths may be regarded as moral nihilists. Secondly, psychopaths like an apathetic, disengaged and anomic society, where citizens lack conviction, and there’s an absence or erosion of moral values.
Psychopaths regard the rest of us as being defective, and seek relentlessly to remake the world in their own image, to proselytize their viewpoint and to “teach” their “defective” empathic fellows to think like them. Unfortunately, they can. People can become psychopathic, they can numb down their sensitivity to others. But a psychopath can never learn to think like an empathic person.
People with a normal capacity for empathy can turn off that capacity and think like psychopaths. Language is a powerful thing, and normal human beings respond to linguistic cues to switch to “psychopathy mode”.
The ancient Greeks and the Founders of our country understood the devastating destructiveness of the language of stigmatising, demonising and othering, particularly to democracies. They called the charismatic psychopaths who excelled at its practice “demagogues.” More recently, neuroscience has provided evidence that such demonising, dehumanising and hate radically alters the way the human brain processes information, making subjects immune to reason, increasingly intolerant, and very easily manipulated.
Divide and conquer is the age old defence of elites. Diversion. I am sure there is a link between nihilism, psychopathy and Conservative ideology. Extensive research has found significant correlations between key antisocial personality traits and Conservative views. Specifically, the research claims to find elements of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism in Conservative subjects.
The Tory mantra: “there is no such thing as Society” leaks a significant clue about principle elements of core Conservative beliefs. The Conservative ideological justification for the destruction of the social unit, promotion of competitive individualism and “survival of the fittest” principles, the shrinking of the State and deliberately manipulated destruction of public belief in government overall is psychopathic.
It’s all about isolating people, breaking up networks and destroying co-operation and community. And of course such unifying and community-building ideas are the very foundations of socialist values and principles.
By focusing on competitive individualism as the primary method of improving the economy and society, Conservatism is an inherently misanthropic ideology; as all motives are seen through pure self-interest, cynicism in human nature becomes the norm. If people exist to simply get what they can for themselves, the motivation for sociability and co-operation decreases.
We become insular, fragmented and isolated. The characteristic of the psychopathic value system is its somewhat Manichean world view – idealised me versus demonised him, idealised us versus demonised them, reflecting the echo-other world view of the pathological narcissist or psychopath. The Tories deliberately create anxiety about others, divide social groups, reduce social cohesion, and create folk devils to bear the brunt of the blame for consequences of Tory policies.
It’s by no coincidence at all that those folk devils also bear the brunt of inhumane Tory policies, too. The Labour government didn’t get everything right for everyone, but Labour have never persecuted social groups like the Tories have, or wilfully destroyed state support for the most vulnerable citizens.
If we don’t vote, then that leaves the Tory supporters, who will simply vote the Tory authoritarians back into Office, and guess what? That doesn’t affect Brand at all. Well, except for the standard £107, 000 that all millionaires get under this Government, each, per year, in the form of a tax break.
We can politically engage, campaign, lobby politicians, and take some responsibility, rather than shrugging, disengaging, and ensuring that nothing will change. Authoritarian governments require a passive, disengaged public to emerge and to maintain their power. We have a duty to challenge and to push back – to demand positive changes and shape a society that supports those that cannot support themselves, that’s the mark of a civilised society. We simply have to fight our way back to decency.
We have to reclaim the progress we once made in an evolved human rights orientated culture. The Tories have undone many decades of hard work and struggle to establish those rights. We have to act, and we must vote. Vote Labour.
This is also worth reading: “They are not all the same.” ‘They’re all the same’ is what reactionaries love to hear. It leaves the status quo serenely untroubled, it cedes the floor to the easy answers of Ukip and the Daily Mail. No, if you want to be a nuisance to the people whom you most detest in public life, vote. And vote Labour.” Robert Webb
Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork