In yesterdays Guardian, George Monbiot tells us that,
A powerful novel’s vision of a dystopian future shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy
Oh, God! What is this novel that tells us about the dark, horrid abyss of the human condition?
It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world. Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot.
We were equally worried about an attempt to overthrow democracy throughout the universe, and to install an evil emperor who practiced dark arts, until we realised that what we were watching was just a series of films by George Lucas, not a documentary.
Seriously, though. George tells us that apathy is going to destroy the biosphere – just like in the novel. But then he tells us that,
On Saturday … I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting 18 new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning.
He can relax, for if it is true that people are apathetic, then these roads will not get built.
Did we say seriously? Okay, maybe not. George continues…
Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties’ policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won’t be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme – Top Gear – that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show.
George needs to put the sci-fi back on the shelf, and get with the program. BBCTV 1 and 2 broadcast 24 hours a day. BBC3 and BBC4 for around 9 hours. On top of this, BBC radio 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7, and the world service, not to mention the vast web site. These all are dominated by exactly the environmental gloominess Monbiot wants us to see and hear; program after program, after program telling us that we must reduce our CO2 emissions, or we’re doomed. Top Gear is but an hour of broadcasting a week, and perhaps the only show from the network which does regularly challenge the cultural pessimism offered by environmentalism. And yet it remains one of the most popular programs ever conceived of, and often achieves an audience larger than the rest of the network combined.
George’s problem is not that people are apathetic. Nor is it that culture is dominated by messages which tell people to consume at the expense of the environment. Many corporations bombard the consuming masses about their green credentials; even ice cream and bottled drinks now come in packaging which urge people to consider their environmental impact. And even the most tabloid media – Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV for example – feature seasons of documentary films on “combating climate change”. There are Hollywood films about catastrophic climate change, there are plays, pop-songs, T-shirts, magazines, consumer and lifestyle guides, all of them ramming home the same message. So why isn’t this enough for George? Why is it that just one hour of broadcasting a week is so popular it leaves George feeling as though it’s just him and his sad novel in a mad, mad world?
George’s problem is that the culture he wants us to be part of is entirely negative. In contrast to this cultural pessimism, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May celebrate human achievements – however shallowly, and appear to risk their lives for their passions, while Monbiot considers us to be a destructive plague on the planet. Clarkson is a hero, and Monbiot is a chicken. Clarkson bumbles his own way into making history by doing dangerous things like driving to the North Pole, while Monbiot twitches behind his curtains, tutting about what other people are getting up to. Clarkson, for all his faults, is full of spirit, letting bad things bounce off of him. Monbiot dwells on the fantasy dystopia he’s read about. The irony here is that while the things that Top Gear represents are somewhat coarse, it is Monbiot’s dark dark narrative which creates apathy. The only reason he can think of for organising our collective efforts is that if we don’t, we will all drown. What George needs to realise is that people don’t drive cars because they watch Top Gear, they watch top Gear because they love cars and the positive things that cars represent. Environmentalism offers us nothing positive.
If things were better, Top Gear would be just another program. But they aren’t, and it’s not. If we want to know why Clarkson is the last bastion of resistance to dull orthodoxies such as environmentalism and political correctness, don’t watch Top Gear, read Monbiot – but don’t take his word for it. It is relentlessly bleak, shrill and hollow. The cultural norms that environmentalism wants to establish have been established within the political and cultural elite, yet he continues to whine that the masses will not march to his command. Monbiot will tell you that people don’t want it because they are influenced by the cultural dominance of Top Gear, but the truth is that people have a much better understanding of their own interests, and a better nose for bullshit than he gives them credit for. They are not blindly following the doctrine of Clarksonism, and shame on Monbiot that he thinks they are. People are resistant to Monbiotism precisely because they are not blindly obedient.
There’s a debate in Oxford you might be interested in this week which relates to this post: http://oxford.facebook.com/event.php?eid=5842498196
I wonder whether Monbiot took a carbon neutral mode of transport to Birmingham?
Great post. The sods do lack a sense of humour, hopefully they will eventually go off and be miserable on their own, like goths.
Great website (I was redirected by Samizdata.net) and a great post. Top Gear is great entertainment. I wonder whether they (and miserable Mobi) know that a Hummer is more environmentally friendly than a Prius? (See http://clubs.ccsu.edu/recorder/editorial/print_item.asp?NewsID=188)
Super Post! I fell for Top Gear when I was working frequently in the UK. They just added it to the BBCAmerica station (unfortunately with your news, but that’s another story) and I have been enjoying it again. Much if the left seems to operate in Monbiot mode.
Keep up the great work!
You absolutely hit the nail on the head.
Mr. Monbiot is indeed a chicken – a well paid far-leftist attack chicken who is encouraged to cluck angrily at the progress of the western world.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate Bush and the neocons just as much as anyone else, including Monbiot. However, holding the anti-Bush position does not excuse the man from his persistent stupidity.
“Clarkson is a hero, and Monbiot is a chicken.”
From Monbiot’s bio on Wikipedia:
“Working as an investigative journalist he travelled in Indonesia, Brazil and East Africa. His activities led to him being made persona non grata in several countries and being sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in Indonesia. In these places he was also shot at, beaten up by military police, shipwrecked and stung into a poisoned coma by hornets. He came back to work in Britain after being pronounced clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya, having contracted cerebral malaria.
In Britain, he joined the roads protest movement. He was attacked by security guards, who drove a metal spike through his foot, smashing the middle metatarsal bone. His injuries left him in hospital…”
So yeah, Clarkson is a real hero…
The difference is that Monbiot travelled the world and came back to tell everybody that they shouldn’t be allowed to see it. Clarkson, however, doesn’t wish to deprive anyone of anything. Monbiot returned from the dead bearing a sandwich board proclaiming the end of the world, but Clarkson celebrates human achievements.
Monbiot may have done some brave things in the past, but the experience only seems to have weakened his spirit and faith in humanity. Maybe he didn’t recover from his experiences quite as fully as has been reported on Wikipedia.
Clarkson remains popular because he represents something entirely more positive.
“Clarkson remains popular because he represents something entirely more positive.”
Like smashing up a brand new car to sell his DVD? Every episode of Top Gear is now a bunch of 40-something adolescents acting like children and providing absolutely no useful information. In fact, they are misleading and deliberatley provocative – I suspect purely in the name of entertainment which is all it is. Problem is – so many people seem incapable of distinguising between mindless entertainment and serious, informed journalism or debate. I actually, against my better judgment, enjoy Clarkson’s humour sometimes, particularly on HIGNFY. But the fact that someone with his influence and viewing figures is so grossly irresponsible is unforgivable.
“Monbiot may have done some brave things in the past”
If you read the news you would know Monbiot recently attempted a citizens arrest on former US government official John Bolton for his part in instigating the war on Iraq.
Enough – there is probably better use of my time than trying to explain this here.
Gasp! Smashing up cars to sell DVDs?!!! Shock!!! Acting like children and misleading and being deliberately provocative!!! Somebody ought to ban this filth.
Anon’s concern that “many people seem incapable of distinguising between mindless entertainment and serious, informed journalism or debate” reveals a contempt for the public which is all to common amongst the environmental movement. Those dirty, stupid proles don’t deserve democracy. And his call for ‘responsibility’ is also revealing of the puritanical and censorious nature of environmentalism.
Of course Top Gear is just a TV program, and Clarkson just a TV presenter. The problem is that the shrill tones made by the likes of Anon and Monbiot elevate him. As we say in the post, If we want to know why Clarkson is the last bastion of resistance to dull orthodoxies such as environmentalism and political correctness, don’t watch Top Gear, read Monbiot.
Monbiot’s attempt to arrest John Bolton was a pointless stunt designed to create attention for himself, same as Clarkson blowing up brand new cars to sell DVDs.
Monbiot is the kid that got bullied at school, and now wants everyone to suffer in his tofu munching, pedal powered car, grow your own lentils grim world.
In fact i’d like to go back to school, so i could bully him some more !
“I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country”
And how did they get there, George..?