George Monbiot is shocked.
But what has shocked George is not the rising tide of poverty and starvation in the world or the unprecedented transfer of wealth to a tiny number of oligarchs.
He is not shocked by the practical collapse of the rule of law or by the brutal actions of police officers in nations claiming to be liberal democracies.
It is possible that these things shock him as well, but if so, there is no sign of this in his recent article for the Guardian.
No. Monbiot is shocked by “leftwingers” being “lured” to the “far right” by “conspiracy theories” in the context of resistance to state measures in relation to Covid-19, including opposition to lockdowns, removal of basic civil rights, mass vaccination with experimental mRNA technology and the prospect of vaccine “passes” or even mandatory vaccination.
In employing these terms Monbiot’s article is a distillation of the familiar techniques used to attack dissenting voices on Covid during the past 18 months and for a considerably longer time on other issues such as climate change, Brexit and globalisation.
This form of attack –always in defence of dominant or mainstream narratives and the actions of governments and their corporate “partners” and always expressed in terms of “concern” – employs pejorative terms such as “far right”, “white supremacist” without defining them adequately or at all.
We are never asked to consider what we understand by the term “far right” or how the label “conspiracy theory” – itself a category with a fascinating back story and history for employment by state powers to attack critics and deflect legitimate questioning – is being used and no attempt is made to define where the line lies between legitimate questions and analysis and more fantastical or “extremist” explanations of events.
A detailed discussion of these terms goes beyond the remit of this response to Monbiot’s article – but it is worth noting that, as would be expected, they are not defined with any clarity by Monbiot.
However, regardless of what he means by these labels, his piece is so fundamentally based on logically fallacies and so scattergun in the way he employs them that it is sufficient to confront his claims on their own lack of coherence.
Monbiot opens his article with an anecdotal warning that acquaintances of his within the “countercultural movements where my sympathies lie” are “dropping like flies” from the deadly plague of Covid.
This opens of the question of how this assertion matches current data and whether Monbiot’s experience matches those of the public at large.
Whether this perception of sweeping pestilence is borne out by statistics or not, Monbiot states that this is not a general plague, visited randomly on all such acquaintances, but is one only affecting those with “anti-vax” beliefs.
These are the crazy folk advocating outlandish ideas like the benefits of “natural immunity” (which Monbiot places in scare quotes, presumably in case his readers might think that the human immune system was a real thing) or “denouncing vaccines and refusing to take the precautions that apply to lesser mortals”.
As a result of their sins against “the Science”, regardless of readily available statistics on the inefficacy of these “precautions”, some have been hospitalised Monbiot tells us – though where this is happening and due what underlying or operating causes is unclear.
It is worth noting at this point that Monbiot is at pains throughout this article to locate himself as part of a “counterculture” or “alternative scene” while devoting the entire piece to repeating mainstream narratives and attacking those who oppose them.
Quite how a Brasenose-educated mainstream journalist (whose previous “activism” earned him a visiting fellowship at Oxford’s Green College at the behest of a former UK ambassador to the UN) qualifies as a figure on the “alternative scene” is a question that could quite legitimately be asked.
Not content to bemoan that his “countercultural” acquaintances are putting their own lives at risk – Monbiot then accuses them of “actively threatening the lives of others”.
This shifts these non-complying leftists from a state of recklessness regarding their own health and into the realm of criminal intent.
This is a technique that anyone who has been questioning the mainstream Covid narrative will be familiar with – having spent 18 months being accused of wanting to kill grannies and murder the vulnerable: even in the face of mounting evidence that it is the state that has been engaged in the culling of these groups and which has certainly been responsible for their immiseration.
The thought process for this imputation of homicidal intent runs like this: masks, lockdowns and vaccines prevent transmission, transmission equals disease and disease equals death.
There is, of course, ample scientific evidence to question each stage of this chain of causation [see here], but Monbiot merely asserts each causal step as unassailable truth sufficient to impute murderous intent to all who fail to comply with the edicts of the biosecurity state.
It could be said in response that it would be possible to lay similar accusation of “threatening the lives of others” against those, like Monbiot himself, who advance the ideology of “net zero” – which would likely result in innumerable deaths from starvation and exposure to cold – but that would be to adopt the tactics of one’s opponent and as Marcus Aurelius put it – “the best revenge is not to be like your enemy”.
Having attributed murderous intent on those holding “anti-vax beliefs” Monbiot now casts his net wider to bemoan the passage of “conspiracy theories travelling smoothly from right to left”, including the claims of “white supremacists”, which he states the misguided children of the left are repeating without knowing their origin.
Monbiot does not trouble himself to identify the nature of these white supremacist claims before moving swiftly on to decry the tragic situation in which:
hippies who once sought to build communities [are] sharing the memes of extreme individualism […] spreading QAnon lies and muttering about a conspiracy against Donald Trump
And bemoan that:
the old boundaries have broken down, and the most unlikely people have become susceptible to rightwing extremism”.
There is no attempt to define what is meant by “rightwing extremism” at this point, with Monbiot finding it sufficient to present anecdotal evidence of muttering QAnon hippies – a group I must confess to have never encountered in the ranks of those opposing the Covid agenda, where the QAnon psyop is more likely to be mocked than embraced.
The reader is left none the wiser as to what “extreme individualism” means either. Maybe these “hippies” are inventing their own personal languages or choosing to live as hermits?
But despite the absence of any concrete examples that might act as a warning to the unwary, Monbiot is still concerned that this is a sign of something going “badly wrong in parts of the alternative scene”.
In fact, Monbiot is merely employing the fallacy of composition – the logical fallacy so beloved of many on the modern so-called “left”, in which an entire, highly diverse, group of people advancing versions of a particular idea can be represented by the most extreme individuals also advancing that idea.
Presumably what we are to believe here is that if a Qanon placard, hastily scrawled in crayon by some fringe nutter, is sighted at a protest or if some misguided basement-dweller comments on a Facebook thread then all attending the protest or commenting on the thread are of one mind with these outliers.
Such shoddy thinking has been the mainstay of those employing agents provocateur to discredit movements and campaigns in the past.
It is at this point – perhaps inevitably given the general adherence to Godwin’s Law amongst his milieu – that Monbiot, in an attempt to tie the ideas of these misguided counter-culturalists to the “far-right”, embarks on a rather woolly, cherry-picking and historically inaccurate identification of an “overlap” between “new age” and “far-right” ideas – specifically with Nazi ideology.
There has long been an overlap between certain new age and far-right ideas. The Nazis embraced astrology, pagan festivals, organic farming, forest conservation, ecological education and nature worship.
Monbiot draws attention to the Nazis’ embrace of “pagan festivals, organic farming, forest conservation, ecological education and nature worship”. But then seemingly not quite sure where he is going with this line of thought, and perhaps perceiving the possibility that as a “green” activist himself he is in danger of associating himself with Nazi ideology, he quickly regroups and states that the Nazis also…
promoted homeopathy and “natural healing”, and tended to resist vaccination.
At this point, Monbiot at least has the decency to point out that just because someone believes in natural medicine and ecology, they are not necessarily a Nazi, which is very good of him and is no doubt a comfort to many of his readers who would identify themselves as being part of the Green movement.
However, it is what Monbiot fails to say about the Nazis that is most telling.
After all, at the Nuremberg Trials, it was not homeopathic practitioners who stood trial for crimes against humanity, it was the allopathic doctors who had carried out medical experiments on the inmates of concentration camps.
And the Nuremberg Code did not set out prohibitions against “natural healing”, but rather against the administration of experimental pharmaceutical products to individuals without their informed consent.
Monbiot also fails to address the Nazi belief in population reduction as central to their views of ecology – especially the targeted removal of those deemed to be inferior and whose presence within the borders of the Third Reich was routinely represented as that of vectors of infection, an unclean influence endangering the health of the Good Germans.
It would not be difficult to find echoes of this Malthusian and eugenicist philosophy today – but Monbiot fails to do so.
It is quite a feat to take the example of the centralised totalitarian state of the Third Reich, obsessed as it was with racial purity, racial “hygiene” and conformity through the process of Gleichschaltung (coordination of all arms of the state around central narratives), and associate it with those who have concerns about matters such as individual rights, the Rule of Law and constitutionality.
Is Monbiot unaware that Nazi ideology was diametrically opposed to these values?
Monbiot also points to a process by which European fascists sought to reinvent themselves in the 1960s and 70s by entering the ecological movement to promote ideas such as ethnic separatism or indigenous autonomy. Though he again fails to explain where, and by whom, these ideas are being raised in the current situation.
Monbiot frames the anti-vaccine movement as:
a highly effective channel for the penetration of far-right ideas into leftwing countercultures”.
He then goes on to provide possibly the most bizarre non-example of this that could be imagined – even in a piece as poorly constructed and logically fragile as this – citing the invitation of “anti-vaxxer”, and well-known liberal, Robert F. Kennedy Jnr to the Trump Whitehouse as his example.
For several years, anti-vax has straddled the green left and the far right. Trump flirted with it, at one point inviting the anti-vaxxer Robert F Kennedy Jr to chair a “commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity”.
One is left wondering at this point whether Monbiot even knows who RFK Jnr is – surely he does – and how on earth he thought this example would be the best one to present to a Guardianista audience (who still see Trump as the personification of right-wing evil), as evidence of right-wing “anti-vaxxers” influencing the left.
Monbiot’s article now dissolves into an ill-defined attack on ‘conspiracy theories’, which he claims are bolstered by Facebook directing vaccine hesitant people towards “far-right conspiracy” groups.
None of these alleged right-wing groups are named or their views described, with Monbiot being content, to:
- a) make a link, without evidence, between “wellness” movements and antisemitism
- b) mock the idea of bodily sovereignty (without defining or arguing this as a legal and/or ethical concept) and
- c) make a vague derogatory reference to beliefs in a “shadowy cabal … trying to deprive us of autonomy”.
Here Monbiot blurs the concept of some form of biological purity with the legal idea of bodily sovereignty, a piece of linguistic and conceptual legerdemain that he employs again later in his conclusion.
To be fair, in his talk of “shadowy cabals” Monbiot doesn’t mention pan-dimensional lizards or the Illuminati – but he may have just run out space to include these.
He is also not clear on where there leads people criticising high-profile globalist organisations such as the World Economic Forum – who far from being “shadowy” publish all of their plans on a glossy website and upload talks and panel discussions from their glitzy annual meetings at Davos.
Of the censorship of legitimate opinion on Facebook, which will be far more familiar to most than being steered to a neo-Nazi group, Monbiot makes no mention.
Monbiot then surrenders any pretence at argument and reminds the reader that they “should never discount the role of sheer bloody idiocy” amongst critics of the biosecurity state and brings up the “Pureblood” meme.
There’s a temptation to overthink this, and we should never discount the role of sheer bloody idiocy. Some anti-vaxxers are now calling themselves “purebloods”, a term that should send a chill through anyone even vaguely acquainted with 20th-century history.
If you are unfamiliar with this fringe social media phenomena, it is one in which the unvaccinated borrow a term from Harry Potter to distinguish themselves from those who have received an mRNA injection. This is, without doubt, a distasteful and counterproductive meme – though its origin is difficult to establish – and provides an open goal for Monbiot (and others) to link those opposing vaccine mandates with the racial pseudoscience of the Nazis.
Ironically here Monbiot states that one cannot expect people this stupid to “detect the echo of the Nuremberg laws”, while being completely blind himself to the other striking contemporary echoes of these discriminatory laws.
It is clear that the current parallels with the Nuremberg Laws do not proceed from those using the “Pureblood” label, who do not seem in any way interested in discriminating against the vaccinated or in excluding them from normal participation in society or from accessing basic services.
In addition, though quick to raise the spectre of the Nuremberg Laws, it is worth observing that Monbiot appears have no interest whatsoever in the Nuremberg Code.
It is in the next section of his article that Monbiot comes closest to touching on something approaching truth, as he describes, without explicitly stating it to be the case, the breakdown in the relevance of a left/right divide experienced by so many over the past 18 months.
I believe this synthesis of left-alternative and rightwing cultures has been accelerated by despondency, confusion and betrayal […] there has been an almost perfect language swap. Parties that once belonged on the left talk about security and stability while those on the right talk of liberation and revolt.
He accurately describes the disillusionment of many who would have considered themselves to be on the ‘left’ as they watched “left-ish” political parties become acquiescent or even supportive of corporate power, while a libertarian right has arisen which rails against excessive corporate control, resulting in what he describes as a “perfect language swap” in which “parties that once belonged on the left talk about security and stability while those on the right talk of liberation and revolt”.
Putting aside the complete lack of evidence for this in the actions and language of the Conservative Party that governs his own country – there is still some truth to what Monbiot says here. In the past 18 months the most unquestioning and aggressive support for Covid policy has been found on the left, a position Monbiot proves as eager to defend as any other member of the “Lockdown Left” – as they have come to be known by many disappointed and outraged people of the left (myself included).
Monbiot then seeks to utilise necessity, the “tyrants plea” as Milton put it, to override the objections that some on the left may have to the criminal record of Big Pharma or their potential revulsion at the “coercive political control” of the responses to Covid.
Mass vaccination is “needed” and lockdown and other measures are “required to prevent Covid-19 spreading” – though ample data points to none of this being the case.
He then extends this free pass to tyranny to the fight against “climate breakdown” and the “collapse of biodiversity”, which he tells his reader have made “powerful agreements struck by governments” necessary – something which he admits can be hard to swallow for a left, particularly an environmental left, resistant to such power plays and instead focused on the “local and the homespun”.
Doubtless such cottage industry approaches to the environment do exist, but there is also a multi-billion dollar oligarch-funded environmental lobbying and PR industry which promotes the case for heavy-handed and society-changing ‘climate action’, and which has brought to the attention of the world such pre-fabricated prophets of doom as Greta Thunberg and funded astroturf movements such as Extinction Rebellion.
Notably Monbiot makes no mention of this whatsoever.
Feeling that he has made his case – though in fact no case has been made at all – Monbiot now arrives at his solutions, which he finds in the “hippie principle” of “balance”. (Though quite where this principle is expressed and who the particular “hippies” are Monbiot does not trouble himself to relate).
Monbiot is careful not to lose his “left” audience at this point, and emphasises that this “hippie principle” is not the ”compromised, submissive doctrine that calls itself centrism” as this leads to “extreme outcomes” such as the “Iraq war, endless economic growth and ecological disaster”.
Instead, he proposes the “balance between competing values in which true radicalism is to be found”.
Remarkably he locates this “balance” in “reason and warmth, empiricism and empathy, liberty and consideration” having demonstrated scant evidence of any of these values throughout the rest of his article.
Presumably it’s this ‘reason, warmth etc ‘ that leads to outcomes such as curtailment of civil liberties, mandatory vaccination and depopulation through pursuit of utopian goals such as zero carbon.
But it is Monbiot’s penultimate paragraph that contains his most dangerous piece of (un)reasoning. We might seek “simplicity” he regretfully opines, like some modern-day Mrs Merdle, but…
the human body, human society and the natural world are phenomenally complex and cannot be easily understood.”
All things which may be true, but which do not imply that we should not seek to understand them.
The conclusion that Monbiot draws from this is chilling:
Life is messy. Bodily and spiritual sovereignty are illusions.
The consequences of this statement cannot be overstressed. If bodily sovereignty is an illusion, where does the bar exist to the intervention of the state or any other coercive force on the individual?
There would, for instance, be no bar to rape, or to forced abortion, sterilisation or any other surgical or medical intervention on the human body.
After all, where there is no sovereignty there can be no consent.
It is to defend the idea of “bodily sovereignty” that the Nuremberg Code was drafted, and it was the discarding of this fundamental ethical concept that gave license to the experiments of Mengele.
Yet Monbiot does not pursue this idea to its logical conclusion, content to dismiss its potentially horrific consequences with a shallow and unsubstantiated statement: “there is no pure essence; we are all mudbloods”.
Here Monbiot, as he does earlier in his article, possibly wilfully, appears to confuse some biological idea of bodily purity (or absence of contamination), to which he attributes connotations of racial purity, with the legal/human rights notion of bodily sovereignty. What he means by “spiritual purity” is, again, anyone’s guess.
Monbiot concludes with a nakedly hypocritical recipe for “enlightenment” as coming from…
long and determined engagement with other people’s findings and other people’s ideas”.
Having displayed absolutely no interest in engaging in any such activities himself. “Self-realisation” he tells us, “requires constant self-questioning” – though he clearly deals in unchallengeable absolutes – and that
true freedom emerges from respect for others”.
Ignoring the inverse case that true tyranny comes from demonising, misrepresenting and disrespecting other people and their views, or by lotting together diverse individuals and ideas under ill-deserved labels such as “far-right” or “conspiracy theorist”.
It is hard to overstress how dangerous the ideas in Monbiot’s article are – a fact made worse by their seeming ubiquity in current mainstream publications and by the casual way they are introduced in relation to a range of issues to discredit legitimate questioning of dominant narratives.
The true danger we face comes not from those on the left being “seduced” by the ideas of the “far right” – a phenomena for which little evidence seems to exist. But rather that anyone would be seduced by the faux-left and superficially “spiritual” and “equitable” concepts offered by Monbiot and others.
Ideas which, when their ill-evidenced assumptions, spurious reasoning and hypocrisy are exposed, potentially light a path to horrendous destinations.