● For years I’ve been struggling with a paradox that seems fundamental to our age. We live under a system that celebrates freedom and choice. Yet almost everyone in a position of power or influence subscribes to the same set of preposterous beliefs.
● Here are a few of them.
— That economic growth can continue indefinitely on a finite planet.
— That the economic system should be granted primacy over the Earth systems that sustain it.
— That you should pledge allegiance to capitalism, even if you don’t know what it is.
— That natural wealth can be turned into private property, and the right of a person to own it corresponds to the numbers in their bank account.
— That the “invisible hand of the market” can one day solve our problems, though it has failed to do so to date.
—That the unhindered acquisition of enormous wealth by a few could lead to something other than economic and political disaster.
— That taxes sufficient to break the cycle of accumulation and redistribute this wealth are unthinkable.
— That permitting a handful of offshore billionaires to own the media, set the political agenda and tell us where our best interests lie is somehow OK.
— That democracy can proceed in the almost complete absence of civic knowledge and useful information.
— That we are best-served by an education system which recognises only one kind of intelligence (analytical, linear and hyperlexic) while neglecting other forms (spatial, systemic etc), writing off millions of children.
— What amazes me is that no terror or torture is required to persuade people to fall into line with these crazy beliefs. Somehow the system has created an entire class of politicians, officials, media commentators, cultural leaders, academics and intellectuals who support them.
— Reading accounts of 20th Century terror, it sometimes seems to me that there was more dissent among intellectuals confronting totalitarian regimes than there is in our age of “freedom” and “choice”.
— It’s not total. There are a few dissenters. They are not, on the whole, imprisoned or executed. The system is so powerful that it doesn’t need to crush them. They are simply ignored and marginalised. It is entirely unruffled by their objections.
— So what’s going on? How has this system created a near-consensus around its ridiculous ideas? How has it ensured not only that people of power and influence defend them, but that almost everyone else nods along, or simply shrugs as Earth systems spiral towards collapse?
— I don’t have a complete or satisfactory answer. But here are some guesses:
1. That petty ambition (better job, bigger house, smoother car) is as potent an enforcer of consensus as state terror.
2. That the billionaire press has become more powerful than human courage.
3. That spectacle, banter and an obsession with trivia and celebrity are more effective at defusing dissent than coercion and fear.
4. That our current organisational structures, which look as if they offer choice and freedom, actually do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, though it might have been accidentally achieved, we have arrived at an almost perfectly calibrated system of social control.
Monbiot has lived an extraordinary life. Born to a family tied to Britain’s Conservative Party, he grew into adulthood while Margaret Thatcher waged war on the country’s least privileged. Monbiot was educated at Oxford but was unhappy there. After school, he spent time as a BBC radio producer but departed after Conservatives moved to restrict content that did not align with their interests.
With success of his book Poisoned Arrows, Monbiot headed for South America. He wrote:
I was 26 when I arrived in Brazil (in 1989), but I see this period as the beginning of my education. It was there that I had my first contact with extensive social movements: the resistance networks established by peasants and indigenous people defending their land from the people trying to seize it.
After life-challenging time in Africa, Monbiot returned to England, working as an activist and journalist focused on politics, human rights and the environment. He has been a regular columnist with The Guardian for the past quarter century and is author of eleven books.
More of Monbiot’s writings:
- I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada.
- Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life.
- Governments seem to find it so easy to raise the money required to wreck the biosphere, and so difficult to raise the money required to save it.
- Almost everything being said by powerful governments at COP26 is a distraction from the crucial task: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
- Every new climate pledge is an attempt to distract people from the failed ones it replaces.
- We cannot build our way out of the environmental crisis.
- Those who consume far more resources than they require destroy the life chances of those whose survival depends upon consuming more.
- Why do we tolerate the massive environmental impacts of the very rich?
- Destroying the world’s living systems and draining its wealth are not perversions of capitalism. They are capitalism.
- The living world is being hit by everything at once: the only way to stop our full-spectrum assault on Earth systems is to reduce our economic activity.
- If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.
- The schedules are crammed with shows urging us to travel further, drive faster, build bigger, buy more… The media, driven by fear and advertising, are hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere.
- [Think tanks] have a remarkably consistent agenda. They tend to oppose the laws which protect us from banks and corporations; to demand the privatisation of state assets; to argue that the rich should pay less tax; and to pour scorn on global warming. What the thinktanks call free-market economics looks more like a programme for corporate power.
- Global economy seems to be built on the model of digging things up from one hole in the ground on one side of the earth, transporting them around the world, using them for a few days, and sticking them in a hole in the ground on the other side of the world.
- Corporations are powerful only because we have allowed them to be. In theory, it is we, not they, who mandate the state. But we have neglected our duty of citizenship, and they have taken advantage of our neglect to seize the reins of government.
- Deregulation is a transfer of power from the trodden to the treading. It is unsurprising that all conservative parties claim to hate big government.
- Full-scale participatory democracy would change everything. It has the same revolutionary potential as the universal franchise and women’s suffrage.
- Media amplifies the voices of billionaires, and shuts down those who challenge them.
- Landed power, built on theft, slavery and colonial looting, crushes our freedoms. It is time to reclaim them.
- History, as the government tells it, is one long lie, airbrushing a host of atrocities.
Monbiot has been a brave and prolific contributor on subjects that should matter greatly to us all. Unfortunately, they do not.