Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The despicable George Monbiot

Today George Monbiot of The Guardian demonstrates just how unthinking, dishonest, and ultimately deserving of our contempt he really is.

Monbiot’s article is aimed at countering the phenomenon that TAE pointed to the other day. He begins by arguing that a newfound patriotism which is being called for by the likes of Jonathon Freedland and Tristram Hunt is incompatible with modern liberalism.

To argue that national allegiance reduces human suffering, you must assert that acts of domestic terrorism cause more grievous harm than all the territorial and colonial wars, ethnic cleansing and holocausts pursued in the name of the national interest. To believe this, you need to be not just a patriot but a chauvinist.
Actually, to accept Monbiot’s argument, you need to be not just a liberal, but a hardcore global collectivist. The goal of Freedland, Hunt et al is not necessarily to reduce the sum total of all human suffering, but is instead to reduce the likelihood of homegrown terrorists blowing up their fellow citizens. To a true “internationalist” like Monbiot, though, that is irrelevant.

When confronted with a conflict between the interests of your country and those of another, patriotism, by definition, demands that you choose those of your own. Internationalism, by contrast, means choosing the option that delivers most good or least harm to people, regardless of where they live. It tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington, and that a policy which favours the interests of 100 British people at the expense of 101 Congolese is one we should not pursue. Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of the 100 British people. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism?
Well, George, you reconcile it by, um, thinking. In the first place, don’t conflate liberalism with Internationalism. For all its faults, modern liberalism (of which, regular readers will know, I am no fan) is not quite so detached from reality as to totally disregard human nature. No one (not even Monbiot, I feel confident in saying) actually holds all human life to be of equal value. We all discriminate when it comes to valuing others…we value our own children more than we value those of others; we value our spouses more than we value acquaintances; we value our friends more than we value strangers. And we also tend to value those with whom we identify for some reason (often times proximity), more than we value those with whom we have nothing in common. This is not something to either strive towards or away from. It is simply a fact of existence. Monbiot’s “Internationalism”, in which he pretends not to make such distinctions, suffers from the same fatal flaw as all unreconstructed leftist thought – a refusal to accept human nature for what it is.

Anticipating the introduction of patriotic heavyweight George Orwell who, even as a socialist, famously took British intellectuals to task for their lack of patriotism during WW II, Monbiot admirably, if ineffectually, takes him on.

Did not the sage assert that "patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism", and complain that "England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality"? He did. But he wrote this during the second world war. There was no question that we had a duty to fight Hitler and, in so doing, to take sides. And the sides were organised along national lines. If you failed to support Britain, you were assisting the enemy. But today the people trying to kill us are British citizens. They are divided from most of those who live here by ideology, not nationality.
Yet is that not precisely the point? The people trying to kill us do not consider themselves British citizens, or at least, just like Monbiot, do not attach any value whatsoever to the fact. It is exactly this lack of regard for a national identity, and the resulting lack of any sense of community with the nation, which encourages them to seek that inevitable sense of attachment elsewhere – like among their co-religionists throughout the world. Hence, many Muslims end up being indifferent to their fellow Britons being blown-up if, in some warped way, they see it as advancing the interests of their (more valued) fellow Muslims somewhere else in the world.

It is interesting that Monbiot acknowledges the "duty" to fight Hitler during WW II. With terrorists targetting innocent "infidels" for death in buildings, on trains, and in buses, one wonders what it would take for him to acknoweldge the duty to fight radical Islam. It seems likely, given his cultural relativism and his utilitarian morality, that he favors the death of 52 London tube riders rather than the death of 53 bomb-toting Islamic extremists.

Monbiot apparently is just too muddle-headed to get this. Indeed, he concludes his critique of Freedland and Hunt with this simple-minded gem:

To the extent that the invasion of Iraq motivated the terrorists, and patriotism made Britain's participation in the invasion possible, it was patriotism that got us into this mess.
On that logic, if I went around blowing up trains in opposition to the existence of the BBC, it would be the license fee to blame, for making the BBC possible.

But Monbiot is at least civil, if not coherent, when critiquing his fellow liberals. Despite spending half the article trying to establish that the thinking of both Freedland and Hunt is “chauvinistic” and perhaps even racist, he concedes that “of course [they] are nothing of the kind.” Not so for the “rightwing press”, the owners of which he smears as either Nazi sympathizers (albeit 3-times removed), tax cheats, or, seemingly worst of all, “an Australian with American citizenship”. (One is sorely tempted to test Monbiot’s globally utilitarian moral calculations by asking him if he would truly favor the interests of 3 Murdoch-like press barons over the interests of 2 Guardian acolytes.)

Monbiot cites a Daily Telegraph editorial, detailing “10 core values of the British identity”, as conclusive evidence of the depravity of right-wing patriotism. Of course, to make his case, he can’t be entirely honest in his citations. For example, quoting out of context, Monbiot says:

These were not values we might choose to embrace, but "non-negotiable components of our identity".
In fact the editorial specifically decries “statutory patriotism” as “an intrinsically un-British notion.” Indeed, the reference to “non-negotiable components” seemed to refer to precisely the qualities that immigrants were choosing to sign up for when they applied for British citizenship.

Demonstrating yet again his inability or reluctance to draw relevant and valuable distinctions, Monbiot says that:

These non-negotiable demands are not so different to those of the terrorists. Instead of an eternal caliphate, an eternal monarchy. Instead of an Islamic vision of history, an Etonian one. Instead of the Ummah, the Anglosphere.
Except, of course, for the minor fact that the Telegraph editors aren't blowing up trains in order to effect their "demands". But nevermind that. As Orwell might say, it takes a certain kind of intellectual to equate the current role of the British monarchy to the implications of a newly imposed Islamic caliphate - no ordinary man could be so foolish. Indeed, the Telegraph reference to “the sovereignty of the crown” goes on to explicitly clarify that "The Lords, the Commons and the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land. There is no appeal to any higher jurisdiction, spiritual or temporal." The caliphate, indeed.

Ironically it is Monbiot who demonstrates that he is not so different to the terrorists. He proudly asserts that:

If there is one thing that could make me hate this country, it is the Telegraph and its "non-negotiable components".
Taking a closer look at the actual content of those components (as opposed to Monbiot’s selective use of them), we find things such as:

The rule of law. Our society is based on the idea that we all abide by the same rules, whatever our wealth or status. No one is above the law - not even the government.

The pluralist state. Equality before the law implies that no one should be treated differently on the basis of belonging to a particular group. Conversely, all parties, sects, faiths and ideologies must tolerate the existence of their rivals.

Personal freedom. There should be a presumption, always and everywhere, against state coercion. We should tolerate eccentricity in others, almost to the point of lunacy, provided no one else is harmed.

Private property. Freedom must include the freedom to buy and sell without fear of confiscation, to transfer ownership, to sign contracts and have them enforced. Britain was quicker than most countries to recognise this and became, in consequence, one of the happiest and most prosperous nations on Earth.

Institutions. British freedom and British character are immanent in British institutions. These are not, mostly, statutory bodies, but spring from the way free individuals regulate each other's conduct, and provide for their needs, without recourse to coercion.
Hmmm. One can see what Monbiot finds so hate-worthy…if one is interested in imposing Sharia, that is.

Despite his ability to cite the “one thing” that could lead him to hate his country (along with a gratuitous reference to his reasons for hatred of the US), he admits that “I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other.”

That is instructive. When a British citizen, with all of the benefits and advantages that that implies, says he has no more reason for affection towards Britain than towards any other random country, you've learned enough about his intellect, judgment, and/or honesty to treat him exactly how he deserves to be treated.

With complete and utter contempt.


Anonymous Richard Dawson said...

I would like to know Monbiot's reaction to a congolese preident who put the interests of 100 Kinshasans above those of 101 Kensingtonians. Slow to chide and swift to bless would he be.

7:53 AM  

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