This one I bought what feels like a lifetime ago in Bookmarks in London, during my 12 bookshops for 12 months project in 2018. It was the day of my October bookshop crawl, where the spoils were abundant, I think only now I’m getting them under control.
Having just finished Returning to Reims (review in the previous blog post), I’m not sure why I picked not only another non-fiction title but also one that was bound to be equally depressing. Somehow it happened and I prepared my mind for a grueling read.
To start with a pleasant surprise, instead of lengthy chapters that I expected I found bite-sized, few pages long articles. Perfect for a lockdown attention span. Also due to their length Monbiot is not pulling his punches, he jumps straight in, focusing on the issue he’s writing about. And he writes about many things.
I think this collection is so extensive to allow for an almost 360-degree view of the current situation of the western world. Monbiot starts with writing about neoliberalism, global capitalism, or whatever we decide to call the system in which many of us operate. And this namelessness he claims is what gives it so much power that goes unchecked. Reminding me of Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names and the notion that what is unnamed remains ungoverned, unmanaged, unchallenged. After a few articles, he moves on to take a look at our society. How we treat ourselves, how we treat children, how our work takes over our lives. How we abandon the ideals of our youth for the well paying job and how universities happily make it possible.
I myself am not crazy about children, I’ll admit that freely. But the laws and solutions against children Monbiot described in his book bring to mind a country like China, whereas he is writing about the UK. Only to move to how the originally emergency laws are extended bit by bit until they can be used to disperse any type of crowd and opposition. Until it becomes virtually impossible to oppose the government within the realms of the law. The power hates discussion and dissent and it will happily eradicate it, by frightening society into agreeing to more and more controlling measures.
Monbiot does not spare anyone, he calls people to account no matter how shiny their reputation, as long as there are facts to support his claims. He takes no prisoners and does not hold back.
He moves on to problems like farming and its impact on the environment. How it makes no sense to allow companies to drill for oil and try to just limit the demand for it. Why aren’t we limiting the supply? It’s such a beautifully simple question. He rightly claims that every barrel drilled will be burned, no matter what. So why are we drilling? The answer is what underpins the whole book: because the rich will do whatever it takes to perpetuate the status quo. Because as much as it enslaves us and devastates the planet it still brings them money and power. And power corrupts and addicts.
That’s why he ends with a text on extrinsic and intrinsic values. On how we have to reclaim our system of values, how we need to reject the one given to us, and build a new one. Without it, we’ll never build a world that has even the slightest chance to survive what’s coming.
A well-paced if depressing read. Every accusation hits the mark. While I may disagree with some of the more radical ideas, Monbiot does not shy away from proposing solutions. This is not just a book bemoaning the issues, he does propose solutions, which rarely happens. If you want to get enraged about the state of the world, if you need this last nudge to push you towards activism then I suggest you read this and then Hope in the Dark by Solnit. It will get your blood boiling and kickstart you to action.
And here you can find selected quotes from How Did We Get Into This Mess?