If you have recently watched the news, picked up a newspaper or left the confines of your own living room, you may well have noticed that things appear to be far from right with the world. Indeed, they seem increasingly to be crumbling around us. Yet we are told that the answer is to work harder, to consume more and to stop whining. Thankfully, there are people who recognise that this is far from being the answer. And George Monbiot (one of my favourite writers, in case you haven’t already noticed) is one of them.
In Out of the wreckage, Monbiot offers a scathing critique of the flawed neoliberal consensus and outlines a compelling vision of a future in which both we and our planet could flourish.
At the heart of the matter, in Monbiot’s view, is the way in which our neoliberal economic and political system pits us against each other in intense competition and what he refers to as ‘extreme individualism’.
This has served to disconnect us from our lives, from our planet and from each other. Because it is at odds with who we are and how we operate as a species.
The answer, says Monbiot, is to recognise that we humans are, at heart, intensely altruistic and cooperative. We want to help each other. We want – indeed, we need – to belong to a community that is bigger than ourselves. And we are at our very best when we are working together towards a common goal.
It was the architect Buckminster Fuller, I think, who said that ‘you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’
This book is George Monbiot’s attempt to do just that. And I think that, by and large, he’s done a pretty good job. His analysis of the failings of neoliberalism is spot on and will ring a bell with most of us. And his vision of a fairer, more caring and more sustainable future has something that will to appeal to all but the most die-hard of the capitalist classes.
If there’s a weakness to the book, though, it’s that having convinced us that his more hopeful, more positive society of the future is the way to go, Monbiot is a little less forthcoming about how we should go about getting there. He reviews a range of different ideas – such as universal basic income, participatory budgeting and digital democracy – that could help to get us there. But it’s far from a detailed roadmap.
Monbiot mentions that he wrote the book to a tight deadline, so this may explain why he doesn’t go into as much detail as one might expect about how to bring his vision to reality. But it’s equally true that Monbiot has done the heavy lifting in terms of explaining what his new society would look like, so it’s perhaps not unreasonable of him to expect us to do some of the work in figuring out how to get there.
Either way, this is an interesting and thought-provoking book. Not earth-shattering in the way that Feral was, perhaps, but well worth a read. And, as ever, worth doing something about. Because our world does seem to be crumbling around us. And it’s going to take all of our collective effort to create the positive future for which we yearn.