Thursday, August 07, 2008

Monbiot v Burchill

George Monbiot and Julie Burchill have what John Gray would call incommensurable world views. In this case I back Monbiot partly because he is right and partly because Burchill is an experience rather than a proposition. You can't actually agree with her any more than you can agree with a Keith Richards solo. Monbiot rightly defends hypocrisy as better than cynicism or, as he should have said, as the tribute vice pays to virtue. I'm less keen on his statement 'Greens have high aspirations - they want to live more ethically...'. Actually, I'd rather they didn't. If global warming is happening, I want practical people, engineers basically, to put it right, not high-minded guilt fiends. If the oxygen masks have come down and the plane's in a steep dive, I for one am not going to ask the pilot to clarify his position on the activities of Big Pharma in Africa. The word 'ethics' tends to make people think in packages which is one reason why the Greens keep getting it wrong. If they'd worked out some years ago - as, I gather, Monbiot is now beginning to do - that nuclear was our only hope, then we'd be a little bit further away from catastrophe than we currently are. But nuclear was a big part of the 'unethical' package so it never happened. Ethics are what you do, not what you say.


  1. Intentions trumping outcomes, eh? The curse of the age.

    Having said which, I think that Hypocrisy Vs.Cynicism is a false dichotomy and one he (cynically?) used to further his argument. The plain fact of the matter is that people can see when you are honestly trying to achieve something (including consistency) and when you are just saying something for the effect of appearing virtuous. Cynicism doesn't really come into it.

    There again, I take our imminent doom with a bucket of salt. Lockwood or no Lockwood. Sorry Gaia, I must be a cynic.

  2. spiritually, you can easily agree on a Richards solo.

    Engineers?! you want a patch job?

    Lovelock, surely?

  3. Julie's instincts are right but she has narrowly missed the target.

    Hypocrisy is neither here nor there. It is really a question of what those dreaded economists call 'revealed preference'. It doesn't bother me that Al Gore hypocritically continues to produce vast quantities of CO2, far in excess of most other individuals. It is just that by so doing he reaveals his 'preference' or real belief about Global Warming. If he really believed that actions such as his own were going to lead to apocalypse (as he claims), he wouldn't do them. Ditto if he really believed that the efforts of indiviualls can make a difference (the core of his Oscar winning harangue).

    Every time I read an environmentalist telling me that there will be catastrophe in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years (why never 40?)I want to check to see whether he or she has sold up to buy a high plains, defendable and sustaionable property somewhere, whether he or she is still paying into a pension scheme or saving for their children's university educations. Are they encouraging their kids to do degrees of to learn survival skills? Of course, most of the time they demonstrate that they don't really believe what they re saying by planning in their lives for a future they claim will not exist or is unlikely to. Al Gore is a bugger for it. James Lovelock (mad though he is) is an honourable exception .

  4. I've given this some thought and, on balance, I'm with Burchill. Last month we took a handful of our students to an Oxford Open Day and stayed at St Annes. Our students/college is in an 'educational action zone' (yes, I know) and we serve a deprived post-industrial town in the North.

    Anyway - I was waiting to be served in a small shop on the main road outside St Annes with two of my students at the front of the queue. These two are bright, generous but from obviously deprived backgrounds. The arse-ripping bollocking they got for daring to ask for a carrier bag was a thing to behold.