When I was at university, most of the students were pretty apathetic about politics. This was the same campus that was known as 'Little Moscow on the Hill' during the 70s and 80s because of the support that was given to the anti-Apartheid movement. This was because the Apartheid struggle was partly a proxy battlefield for the west supporting the white majority government against those struggling for freedom who found support from Communist revolutionaries. Anyone against the Government was labeled a communist. There were stories of police coming into the library with sjamboks. By the time I got there, Apartheid had ended and most students were far keener on getting involved in drinking games and testing boundaries given the absence of parents. In one of our Student Representative Council elections, the most votes was gained by someone who didn't even know he was running till he found out his digsmates' had played a practical joke on him. Shirtless posters with a catch phrase along the lines of 'Cause you know you want to' were pasted all over campus. He won a landslide but obviously honourably withdrew. There just weren't any real issues that people cared enough about to pull them away from the beer.
The University of Cape Town during student protests
I don't know much at all about British politics. It feels a little like a debating contest amongst classmates from the same school. I put my hand up in terms of ignorance. When there are big ticket dividing issues like a racist, oppressive, undemocratic government, it becomes easy (though dangerous) for people to gather around an issue. When people are living in a wealthy, awesome, liberal country like Britain, there are issues but they are just harder to get as excited about. People like a good moan, but they are actually pretty content. You get pockets of people caring deeply about specific issues but rallying support becomes tougher. Noise doesn't necessarily signal a consensus view. On top of that, the more subtle issues become the harder it is to have an educated, informed view. I mentioned in 'Empathy Armoury' how I had enjoyed listening to Russell Brand's 'Revolution'. Stuart pointed to a scathing attack of the book in The Daily Beast by Michael Moynihan. Brand didn't study politics. He isn't a trained writer. He is a comedian. A very rich comedian who feels guilty about being ridiculously wealthy, and has a platform. As far as I know he studied drama - not philosophy, law, history, politics, economics and the various other things I would look for from a professional politician. Probably my favourite comedian ever, Eddie Izzard, is also rumoured to be thinking of running for mayor of London and getting more involved in politics. Comedian Beppe Grillo has been involved in Italian politics since 2009 having started the Five Star Movement. Rigour isn't always the same as being able to connect with people.
I am not going to defend the holes in Revolution. There are lots of things I disagree with. One thing I do like though is the idea of not relying on politicians. Perhaps politics breaks once the big issues have been conquered. This is not Russell's argument. He thinks there are big problems. I agree that there are problems too, but I am less conspiracy orientated and think we need to take more responsibility for sorting out our own collective lot. So our conclusions are similar. Power gets extracted from despotic kings and entrenched majorities. Then there is the risk of either indistinguishable parties or parties that are different because it is politicians job to be different. Then they have to spend a lot of time just staying in 'power'. There comes a time for the liberated to take responsibility for prosperity. In my Utopia, we will have come to a consensus about basic constitutional rights and laws and unglamorous but efficient people will get on with the administration of government - it won't be sexy and there won't be any need for loud hailers and arm-in-arm marches.
I still think there are lots of big issues to conquer. Once you have empowered citizens, I don't think we should look to governments to solve them. Ballot boxes don't solve problems. People solve problems. Get on with it.