Book Review: How Did We Get Into This Mess?

By Joe Gunn

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature
By George Monbiot
Verso Press, 2016

Reviewed by Joe Gunn

George Monbiot is a maddening writer.

He baits the reader, starting off each of the 50 short essays in this book with a totally outrageous proposition. Then the long-time columnist for the Guardian newspaper describes some unthinkably brutish environmental injustice, military madness, political skullduggery, or economic corruption. And finally he stuffs right into our faces the shame at how we never guessed this could be happening today, under our unsuspecting noses.

What are Monbiot’s targets? He trashes consumerism, “man was born free, and he is everywhere in chain stores.” The slavish media is “owned by tax exiles who instruct their editors from distant chateaux.” Overpopulation is a myth: “It’s no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it’s about the only environmental issue for which they can’t be blamed.” The becalmed trade union leadership is so compromised that they are “turkeys led by chickens, who never stop voting for Christmas.”

The reader will disagree with some of Monbiot’s overheated rhetorical sorties, like his defense of nuclear power as the environment’s saviour, or his assertion that “the primary purpose of most religions is to control women.”

Even as we “form an orderly queue at the slaughterhouse,” Monbiot reminds us that “to seek enlightenment, intellectual or spiritual; to do good; to love and be loved; to create and to teach: these are the highest purposes of humankind.” His writing begs us to believe that, “If there is meaning in life, it lies here.”

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