Diary - George Monbiot
The paradox of journalism is that those with most opportunity have least to say: they owe so much to
Term is over, and at last the students have cleared out of Oxford, my home town. No one who lives here is sorry to see them go, except the off-licence proprietors. Something about the way they walk while wearing black tie drives me berserk.
At the "May Morning" celebrations on 1 May, I was distressed to see that the police had erected metal barriers along Magdalen Bridge. From time immemorial, Oxford students have demonstrated the principles of natural selection by jumping off the bridge and impaling themselves on old shopping trolleys. Now that this tradition has been brought to an end, it surely behoves the police to find some other means by which Nature might be permitted to run her course.
From time to time, I am invited to the world's most overrated debating chamber, the Oxford Union. Its members always succeed in choosing pompous, tiresome and emotionally retarded creeps as their presidents. The pictures on the walls show that they are destined to become our masters: the union committee in any year contains half the cabinet and half the country's newspaper editors, 30 years thence.
Incensed by the mixture of sycophancy and self-aggrandisement, I inscribe the visitors' book with such sentiments as "This is where the corruption of Britain begins", or "Why is it that those least suited to power are the most likely to obtain it?". I don't know whether they still teach them to read at this university, but somehow I'm always invited back.
Now that a book of mine has finally been noticed by the literary editors, I can speak out without being thought to suffer from sour grapes. There appears to be an unwritten rule in literary London that radical political books don't get reviewed. Editors will grant no end of space to biographies of dead political writers, but almost none to the works of the living. Potentially world-changing books, such as Alastair McIntosh's Soil and Soul and Bernard Lietaer's The Future of Money, pass without comment. Literary editors seem to feel that a book doesn't qualify as literature unless it is removed, by time or by imagination, from the here and now. They are light years behind the readers, among whom those few political books permitted to see the light of day, such as Stupid White Men and Fast Food Nation, are enjoying a popularity unexampled since the 18th century.
Reviewing these entries, it strikes me that I am becoming rather bilious. Perhaps that's just as well. To be a well-rewarded writer and still retain your sense of outrage about the way other people are treated, you need, I think, to feel at odds with the world. The press has discussed the political conversion of several formerly left-wing journalists: something momentous is happening, it is said reverentially; the left is in full-scale retreat; the intellectual momentum has shifted to the right. To which I will deploy a word used to excess by one prominent apostate: bollocks.
A middle-aged man discovers that, for the first time in his life, he is making money, getting invited to the smartest dinner parties and hobnobbing with ministers and editors. He no longer sees himself as an outsider, but as a member of the cultural and political elite. He accumulates loyalties towards the people he once took pleasure in knifing. His politics accordingly shift, and we all fall about in astonishment. The press loves a convert to the right. So just as a journalist pulls away from his readership, he is licensed to impose himself upon it as never before. The paradox of journalism is that those with most opportunity have the least to say: they come to owe so many favours to powerful figures that the only people they can attack are the weak and the voiceless. The bigger they get, the smaller their targets become.
So if I am to retain my interest in social justice and human rights, I must become even more of a bilious old git, while alienating as many of the people who might do me favours as I can. Here, then, is a message to all those editors, reviewers and ministers whom I have not yet offended. Kindly boil your heads.
George Monbiot's The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order is published by Flamingo