|Scary corporate men coming to get you!|
― Alexis de Tocqueville
George Monbiot is a man of passion. He is one of the people who - in my mid twenties - helped me to see past the orthodoxy of western liberalism, and actually question the righteousness of the establishment. That was a good thing. But I moved on. As quickly as I understood that the establishment needed to be questioned, I understood the importance of perspective; that being outside the establishment made it difficult to see in, just as it was often painfully difficult for those within the establishment to see out.
Today, he writes of the secretive, collusive, and nefarious goings on in the world of political lobbying. It's not really new; essentially, Monbiot complains that these groups, funded by the rich, are dictating policy to Her Majesty's government, and thus depriving the electorate of unfettered representation. A thousand protestations follow, and a twitter deluge of "hell yeah!" ensues. Just as Monbiot tells of the Adam Smith Institute's Saturday afternoon meetings at the Cork and Bottle, perhaps Monbiot's followers should meet in the Bottle and Cork across the road. In some Pythonesque twist (think The Crimson Permanent Assurance at the opening of The Meaning of Life) perhaps both would come up with the same policies with which to assault the ears of supplicant representatives. Then what? Who would we fight? The point is that the process, not the policy, is the subject of Monbiot's ire.
Another thing is that democracy is all about persuasion, and these instruments of persuasion are maturations of the civil society structures that de Tocqueville so lauded in his Democracy in America. If think tanks were replaced by books, published and promoted by rich corporations, would we ban books? We have elites, like all societies have had elites, be they royal, hereditary, rich, better educated, political or corporate. Those elites will have disproportionate influence. That can, actually, be a good thing. Having a chip on your shoulder about failed neo-communism, or pseudo-socialism, does not create anything, it doesn't advance anything, it just becomes a bitchy-moany complaintocracy that doesn't even make it out of the starting blocks.
In one of the first comments on Monbiot's piece, a Guardian reader called StOckwell says "Yes, George, i've been watching it happen. You're right. So what are we going to do about it?" to which George gamely replies "Only three solutions: mobilise, mobilise, mobilise. Do nothing alone. Don't start a group if one exists already. Join, protest, march, demonstrate." Or, as Father Ted put it, "Down with that sort of thing". Protesting against the power of think tanks is like arguing against arguing. Because that would, like, influence people to do stuff. Grow up, for goodness sake. Monbiot may describe himself as an unreconstructed idealist, but I think - unfortunately - that he's become a Monty Python sketch all by himself.