Free societies need mavericks, heretics and ranters
It’s all over for Russell Brand. He’s been regarded with suspicion by the Left for a few years now, but with today’s denunciation by George Monbiot in The Guardian the process of excommunication is complete.
Monbiot begins his piece by admitting his previous admiration for his current bête noire. Indeed, in 2014, he nominated Brand as his hero of the year. One can only imagine his disappointment when the wildly anarchic stand-up comedian turned out not to be completely reliable.
But what is Brand supposed to have done wrong? According to Monbiot’s charge sheet it’s his “endless iterations of the alleged evils” of such individuals and institutions as the World Economic Forum, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Fauci and big pharmaceutical companies.
These are influential persons and organisations. They shouldn’t be exempt from challenge — and certainly not because they clothe themselves in the garb of political and scientific progress. That said, Monbiot’s main gripe concerns the way in which Brand goes after his targets. In this regard, Exhibit A is Brand’s rant against the Dutch government’s enforcement of an environmental regulation on its farmers — which has provoked a popular backlash. Monbiot describes Brand’s words as a “classic conspiracy theory mashup: a tangle of claims that may be true in other contexts, random accusations, scapegoating and resonances with some old and very ugly tropes”.
Brand can be careless in his choice of language. Nitrate pollution from intensive agriculture needs to be controlled, therefore it’s wrong to say that “this whole fertiliser situation is a scam”. It’s also hard to buy the conspiratorial idea that environmental regulation is being used to facilitate a global “land grab” at the expense of small farmers.
However, there’s a distinction to be drawn between the questionable specifics of Brand’s argument and the bigger picture. Governments across Europe have spent decades pushing intensive agricultural methods on the countryside. In particular, the distortions of the Common Agricultural Policy have forced farmers to over-produce — and the big agri-industrial corporations that sold them the nasty chemicals which made this possible have profited handsomely. But now that governments can no longer ignore the environmental impacts of their policies, they’re placing the burden of putting things right on struggling farmers.
This isn’t a plot to nab their farms, but rather the same old story of big politics and big business dodging responsibility for their actions. Sometimes it takes an outlier like Russell Brand or Joe Rogan to articulate the anger that society ought to feel. That’s especially true when it needs to be directed at ‘progressive’ institutions — for instance, the European Union — that the conventional Left is reluctant to condemn.
Another example is the Covid lab-leak theory. The evidence that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory is now so strong that some parts of the US government now see it as the likeliest explanation. And yet not so long ago, the hypothesis was condemned as a conspiracy in the mainstream media and dismissed by experts like Dr Fauci.
Fortunately, there were those willing to disagree with the expert class — and put forward alternative ideas. The mavericks, heretics, ranters and fools of a free society may be wrong most of the time. But sometimes they’re not. And that’s when we need them.