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Where Liberals Diverge: Marianne Williamson and Russell Brand

Two recent announcements—well, one announcement and one pronouncement—are making the rounds: popular self-help author Marianne Williamson has thrown herself into the political ring by running for the congressional seat in California’s 33rd District, while actor/comedian Russell Brand declared why he refuses to take part in any political process at all.

Both thinkers have similar platforms though completely different approaches as to how politics works, or at least how it ‘should’ work. They agree on a significantly stronger focus on people and not corporations, a true ‘one person, one vote’ rule. Williamson is attempting to make this a reality through her involvement in the process; Brand, by avoiding it all together.

A number of friends emailed or posted on my Facebook wall about Williamson’s announcement, given that they know my issues with some of her philosophies. Her adherence to the quasi-mystical A Course in Miracles is as disturbing as Michele Bachmann’s tireless praise of a bible that’s predominantly imaginary.

That said, she is a vibrant and intelligent speaker. At last year’s Wisdom 2.0 Conference she eschewed Miracles lingo and presented a solid arguments for social change. I’m not implying that spiritual discussion should be absent in our politics, given how much fundamentalist religious talk has dominated discourse over the past 13 years. Scripture has been falsely utilized to argue against abortion and same-sex marriage rights; interjecting with uplifting messages instead of negative, made-up damnations will be a welcome change.

Here is where my concern lies: Williamson has an arrogant streak that’s tough to stomach. She rigorously lambasts those who don’t agree with her. For those in her ‘in’ crowd, this seems like strength, much like Tea Party conservatives cheering on ‘take no bullshit’ representatives such as Ted Cruz and Justin Amash. For those of us who prefer open dialogue, her diatribes come across as self-centered and –serving. At Wisdom she laid into open-minded Ohio congressman Tim Ryan in what appeared to be an attempt of bolstering her own arguments.

Even more disturbing is this debate on the Larry King Show that included Williamson, neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, Rabbi Marvin Hier and skeptic Michael Shermer. The three men were extremely cordial while maintaining widely disparate viewpoints; Williamson kept waving aside Shermer as if his ideas had no validity whatsoever.

Given her blunt nature, I’m speculating that if Williamson is elected, she would try to make an impact early on. Her website is currently filled with well-meaning but effectively pointless rhetoric that ignores actual policy points. She’s still speaking to her base, one filled with ideas and no guidelines for substantive change. Liberal heroes like Elizabeth Warren and the newly elected Cory Booker laid out actual policies they were attempting to implement before even taking office. Given that it’s early in Williamson’s candidacy, hopefully that will change, as her presence could be strong if she goes to Washington to engage in dialogues and not espouse monologues.

Speaking of monologues, Brand’s rant with BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman is certainly memorable, though not without its own trappings. Admitting that he’s never voted in his life, Brand stated that he refuses to take part in a system he does not believe in, which is fine if, as Paxman kept nudging him towards, he has an agenda. Yet Brand’s agenda is just to continue to rant. 

That’s enough if your goal is to make a point and inspire others, both things he has done. He tries to use this as his platform, however, sidestepping Paxman’s continued questioning about exactly what a new system entails. Brand agrees that he’s all in for a revolution; the problem is—the same criticism handed to the Occupy movement—there’s no talk about what a replacement system would be.

A political system that creates essentially unlimited wealth for a minority while blatantly ignoring the majority of a population is decrepit and deceitful. But where in history can we find a nation that has completely undone one way of living for another? We only need to look at the undying turmoil in Egypt to see that simply installing one party over another does not work. How implementing an entirely new platform in America—or the UK; Brand keeps bouncing between nations without segue—by avoiding the existing one causes real change is a question he cannot answer.

Williamson’s perspective—the ‘change from within’ agenda—is a more forward-thinking approach than avoiding what you don’t like. Initiatives like her Sister Giant, inspiring women to engage in politics, and Yoga Votes, motivating the yoga community to vote, are wonderful steps in overcoming the social lethargy Brand is essentially promoting (or at least not offering solutions for). If Williamson is able to pull it off without becoming consumed by miracles or her own agenda, we’ve taken a step in the right direction. 



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