Books

With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.

George Monbiot: How Did We Get Into This Mess?

Monbiot

George Monbiot: How Did We Get Into This Mess?

The raison d'etre of this collection of essays comes in the final chapter in a book looking for answers as to the state of the world today:

In the United States, blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without health care, and insist that millionaires should pay less tax . . . What has happened to us?

Following on from Naomi Klein's No Is Not Enough, I wanted to read more of this, like I'm tired of trying not to slip into the equation: Concern For How Bad Things Are = Militancy = Envy and Bitterness. Who wants to be seen as a conspiracy theorist, or a bore, or a tree-hugging hippy type? But at a certain stage, you stop caring about how much you care.

Monbiot dares to care about many things, including the growing trend of investor-state rules. He cites the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in the process of being organized between the EU and the US, which will allow corporations the further ability to sue countries that deny them, eg for control of resources. Monbiot cites recent examples of this trend: a Canadian company is suing El Salvador for £315 million for the loss of its anticipated profits, for not being allowed to exploit a gold mine there, a mine that would contaminate the water supplies. In Argentina following public protests, the government put a freeze on people's energy and water bills; Argentina was then sued successfully by international utility companies, and paid them over a billion dollars in public money in compensation.

There are broader issues that Monbiot raises, epitomized by the book's title. He notes how freedom as a concept has been appropriated by the super-rich – ie those who control our media and through lobbying and funding, our political system – to mean freedom from the demands of social justice, from environmental constraints, from collective bargaining and from the taxation that funds public services. Meanwhile, most people's wages have fallen: Between 1947 and 1979, productivity in the US rose by 119 per cent, while the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 122 per cent. But between 1979 and 2009, productivity rose by 80 per cent, while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4 per cent. So our conception of freedom has changed incrementally these past forty years, almost without notice, like the proverbial frog in the pan of ever increasing boiling water. The majority are getting left behind, and are voting for it, thinking that this is freedom.

The surveying of our cultural malaise is something Monbiot does well. In one chapter he writes a meditation on our modern obsession with linearity, and concurrently with accomplishments. The natural world, so at odds with this, suffers from our disregard, though we suffer too from losing ourselves in this culture of linearity. This leads to one of Monbiot's biggest arguments: that the neoliberal need for economic growth, quarter by quarter, is driving us relentlessly to our environmental destruction. He mentions Christmas as an example, of how we all buy gifts for each other that we don't need, which become forgotten a half hour later. According to a film, The Story of Stuff, only 1 per cent of materials flowing through the consumer economy remain in use six months after sale.

I read this and I thought: guilty. Monbiot then pursues the consequences of our consumer culture: Industrial Farming, Sweat-Shop Conditions in Factories, Environmental Pollution. All for who or what, exactly?

His book goes on, essay after essay, depressing in the way that watching the movie The Florida Project left me feeling low. But at the end, Monbiot mentions our extrinsic and intrinsic natures, the former caring about status and money and distrusting strangers, the latter less concerned about these things than about other people. We are all made up of both, though some gravitate more to one than the other. Monbiot finishes with a call: People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the ground that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.

As a meat-eating, consumption-loving fan of the Trump-sport-par-excellence, American football, I nevertheless feel emboldened reading the likes of Klein and Monbiot. 2018 will be the year when I care just a little bit more.
On Sarah McBride and Tomorrow Will Be Different
Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Sunday, 27 May 2018

Captcha Image

My Latest Posts

May 20, 2018

Transgender Art: Metanoia

Transgender Art: Metanoia Transgender art comes around rarely, I've found, or perhaps I just haven't felt touched by it before. One of the most famous trans artists, Del LaGrace Volcano , is the kind I don't feel drawn to, images of the artist all gurning and grotesque, seeming to depend on shock and incongruity. Their work for me prompts thes...
May 20, 2018

London: Digital Identities Conference

  London: Digital Identities Conference 18.05.18 Presenting at a conference on deprived sleep is like wandering Peruvian forests on Ayahuasca The last few days have seen me emerging from hypnotic tortures of sleep deprivation, of days blurring into nights blurring into dawns and hotel breakfasts. Train journeys taking me to speak at a conferen...
May 13, 2018

Janet Mock: Redefining Realness

in Books

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock Transgender autobiographies are dominated by whiteness. There's no need to set out a list, suffice to say that since the trans memoir began with Lili Elbe's Man Into Woman (1931), publishers have sought out the safest, most marketable kind of representation of trans to a white, heteronormative majority. This makes ...
May 13, 2018

Lean On Pete

Lean On Pete (on at Edinburgh Filmhouse) Patriarchy and capitalism both take a beating in Lean On Pete . It's a film about a youthful 15-year-old boy, Charlie (an award-winning performance by Charley Plummer) who rescues a condemned horse and takes it with him on a personal quest across wastelands and highways to find his surrogate mother, fol...
Beast
May 06, 2018

Beast

May 06, 2018

Beast

Beast I spent most of yesterday alone, after an exhausting week of ambivalent conclusions, and this made the dark and brooding Beast weirdly appropriate. The movie focuses on two outsiders, psychologically traumatised Moll and poacher Pascal Renouf, both inhabiting an island world of rugged coastlines, crashing waves, and an anally-retentive middle...
Trap Door
May 05, 2018

Trap Door

in Books

May 05, 2018

Trap Door

in Books

Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (MIT, 2017) We are living in a time of trans visibility. Yet we are also living in a time of anti-trans violence . So begins Trap Door , a 400-page anthology of interviews, essays and reviews of the experiences of predominantly African-American and Latino transgender people in the ...
May 05, 2018

Learning Curves

Learning Curves: speaking at my first conference This post could go one of two ways, narcissistic or focused on the bigger picture. I spoke at Edinburgh Mad Con yesterday – the conference of Madness, Mental Illness and Mind Doctors in 20 th and 21 st Century Popular Culture. I spoke about the moral panic caused by the issue of transgender women usi...
April 29, 2018

To have or not have cosmetic surgery

To have or not have cosmetic surgery It started as I was browsing images of Sarah McBride, the trans activist as girl-next-door, so pretty and passable. Then came Janet Mock, her model-good-looks, and I thought, 'fucking hell' and also, 'oh for fuck's sake.' And these are supposed to be my transgender role models? It's the weird dynamics ...
April 29, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War It's set in Edinburgh! goes the cry, and I only wish it had been, or at least, much more than the five minutes that we get to see Edinburgh. Like the ten-second use of Northern Ireland in Hell Boy II , I was left wondering, what was the point? Locations-wise, the big winner in Avengers: Infinity War was outer space, with its ...