Why do we collaborate in our own destruction?—A short thread by George Monbiot

Fire in LA during 2020

The words I reproduce below by George Monbiot in a Twitter thread of 1st March 2021 hit me very, very hard yesterday. Working and moving, as I do, in liberal/progressive religious and political circles — where one would like to think there was some real hope that one would be among a group of people willing to pay regular, concentrated attention to, and talk seriously about, the dire seriousness of the present situation facing humanity (and indeed the whole planet) — like Monbiot I regularly find exactly the opposite. In my own circles, frantic triviality also all too often reigns supreme and I repeatedly encounter both a shocking determination not to know and a strong desire to shy away from any kind of thinking/conversation that is even slightly difficult and challenging. I will frankly confess that, at times, the situation is utterly depressing and enervating. But what else can one do except keep trying to put “out there” stuff which genuinely attempts to impart some kind of useful knowledge or understanding about our world and our place in it and which may, just now and then, help start some kind of non-trivial conversation? As Monbiot concludes his thread, so I conclude this preamble to my own vanishingly tiny number of readers: Hurry up please, it’s time.

Why do we collaborate in our own destruction? a short thread by George Monbiot

1. Why do we collaborate in our own destruction? One of the answers, I think, is our determined commitment to irrelevance. We face massive, unprecedented challenges, but when you tune in to the most popular radio shows, you hear people talking all day about … nothing.

2. As climate and ecological breakdown happen at stupendous speed and scale, as democracy is hollowed out, as a handful of oligarchs accumulate massive economic and political power, we ensure that our heads are filled with meaningless noise.

3. If alien spaceships started incinerating our cities, and we turned on the radio, we’d be told “so the hot topic today is: what’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while eating a kebab?”.

4. The great majority of what we listen to imparts no useful knowledge or understanding about our world. It feels like a defensive reaction: a determination not to know. I’ve come to believe that this frantic triviality is as dangerous as any propaganda.

5. It forms a loop. As our heads fill with determined irrelevance, it becomes socially impossible to talk about anything else. The mental shift required to discuss serious, crucial issues is too great.

6. Let’s not pretend this empty prattle is the preserve of the music stations. Most “political journalism” is court gossip: who’s in, who’s out, who said what to whom. It studiously avoids what lies beneath: the dark money, the corruption, the shift of power away from democracy.

7. Even the literary pages of the newspapers are committed to gossip: highfalutin celebrity culture. The 23rd biography of a member of the Bloomsbury Set will get blanket reviews, while crucial books — such as The Good Ancestor and The Patterning Instinct — are completely ignored

8. It’s the kind of cultured small talk that T. S. Eliot, picking up the lyrics of a song, satirised in The Waste Land (“O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag”). It fills our hours while time closes in.

9. So one answer to the question of why we collaborate in our own destruction is that we deliberately turn away from knowledge and understanding, and fill our heads with insistent chatter. It’s a subtle and insidious form of reactive denial.

10. Perhaps the denial reflex is inevitable in a species that's aware/not aware of its own mortality. But we have ramped it up in the 21st-century to the point at which it both dominates and threatens our lives.

Hurry up please, it’s time.