George Monbiot’s recent How Did We Get Into This Mess? is a worthy book, not what you would call enjoyable exactly, but a series of chapters on what ails us in the modern world, penetrating and clear. But the cumulative effect of his litany of ills is a metaphysical bludgeoning, and the diagnoses call for a prescription, as he notes in his latest book, where he writes that his editor at Verso pressured him into writing this sequel of sorts, Out of the Wreckage, which, as its name suggests, offers some advice on getting out of the mess.
As he rightly suggests, getting out of the mess requires not just recognition of the mess, but a new narrative to inspire the getting out. He suggests that information per se (‘being informed’) doesn’t really help us in our politics – it usually just reinforces cherished beliefs. It is where we get these beliefs from that matters. He begins by suggesting that the success of neoliberalism, in such comprehensive fashion that most of us don’t recognise the extent to which neoliberalism has seeped into our bones, means that we unquestioningly accept economic models that assume innate selfishness and individualism as opposed to altruism and community spirit. And therefore we accept all the neoliberalist ideology of free markets and less regulation and efficiency and not inhibiting competition because it fosters innovation (could, for example, cooperation alternatively foster innovation?). Just like how F1 racing improves car design, so the fierce competition of the market improves… well, more competition. (And what about the pollution?) His simple quoting of neoliberal icon Hayek (he doesn’t even have to infer or ‘interpret’ Hayek) should indicate to any reader with any inkling of fairness just how diabolical this philosophy is.
The alternative, one might rightly gather, is community, honesty, shared prosperity, justice, cooperation, and the like. And if the quasi-neoliberal reader happens to be skeptical of such utopian talk, he goes on to offer examples of just where in the world and how these things are being undertaken in alternative politics and governance and community enterprise and how we can learn from them. (Not to mention be heartened by them.)
Of particular note is his analysis (the essence of which is not exclusive to Monbiot, to be sure, but it is a model of clarity) of the US election, where Hillary simply offered a watered down version of Republican policy, backed by big money, not an alternative to the current mess, which is why many responded to Bernie Sanders in hope, and why many others threw their lot in with Trump, who at least wasn’t going to give them the same-ol’. (Though of course in many ways he is, being from the same moneyed monopolist class that so influences American politics.) Monbiot suggests that the (reasonably successful, if you think about how radical his ideas were) example of Sanders’ grassroots, populist campaign uncorrupted by compromising for the sake of rich donors means there is actually an alternative to media manipulation, spin and the like, which is real people responding to real people.