Review: Out of the Wreckage

There is something deeply weird about humanity. … This phrase does not refer to our skills with language or our use of tools or ability to change our environment, remarkable though these are. It refers to our astonishing degree of altruism: our kindness towards other members of our species. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.

— George Monbiot. Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis

Democracy is under siege. Authoritarianism is on the rise. This is true, not only in America, but in the UK and other parts of Europe as well. Bills in the US Congress that are highly unpopular are passed by politicians who are equally so. The elected officials at the local and federal levels work for their donors, not for the people who elected them. How can this be happening? In the developed world? In the 21st century?

To try and make sense of it all, I immersed myself into a triad of recent works. First up was Nancy Macleans’ Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Maclean gave me an understanding of the philosophical and intellectual underpinnings of the neoliberal forces that have overtaken our academic institutions, our airwaves, and our politics over the last 40 years.

But ideas — especially relatively unpopular ones — don’t permeate a culture without help. Who are the people behind the promulgation of these toxic, and ultimately destructive, ideas? Enter Jane Mayer and her brilliant exposé Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the RadicalRight. Mayer’s carefully researched work shines a spotlight on the relatively small cadre of ultra-rich people who are using their enormous wealth to shape the political and cultural landscape in their own image. The two books offer a powerful insight into the how and why of what’s going on in our political and cultural arenas.

And then, teetering on the edge of despair, I stumbled upon George Monbiot. He is a British writer who has keen insights into not only Trump’s rise in America, but the emergence of Brexit in the UK. With a thorough grasp of how we got into this mess (hint, it involves neoliberalism), Monbiot’s ideas and prescriptions in Out of the Wreckage offer a promising, inspiring, and eminently possible way out of it. I’ve had the growing sense for a long time that a sense of community is what has been missing from our lives. With ample evidence, woven together into convincing stories, Monbiot shows that the capitalistic notion that we are inherently competitive and individualistic simply isn’t true. Weaving together research from psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology he shows that we are endowed with a communal ethos. We are all interconnected, and we’re deeply altruistic.

If you want to know more about the book, others have written about it much more thoroughly than I. For a broad-sweeping jaunt through Monbiot’s primary ideas, I recommend this interview with him at Truthout.org.

However, if you want the antidote to today’s toxic political and communally bankrupt environment, don’t waste any more time. Buy this book and start reading it today. Out of the Wreckage is not only the antidote to our sideways world, it’s the way forward. Thank you @GeorgeMonbiot? for this inspiring and hopeful work.

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