The Best Things in the World Have Always Sprung up by Accident. Take the Internet, for Instance

And almost everything bad is the result of utopians trying to plan the world into a better state.

Since no one has bothered to ask what my must-read book of last year was I’m going to tell you here: it’s Matt Ridley’s Evolution of Everything.

I don’t think it has appeared on nearly so many recommended lists as his previous bestsellers Genome and The Rational Optimist, nor has it been so widely reviewed. And I have a strong inkling as to why: its message is so revolutionary as to alienate pretty much everyone across the spectrum, from Christians and Muslims to corporate bosses, historians, feminists, educationalists and conspiracy theorists, from Greens and socialists all the way across (if there’s a difference) to Conservatives like George Osborne and David Cameron.

It also happens to be, in my view, as near as damn it to 100 per cent right about every subject it broaches, from the internet to bankers, from crop circles to education, from the nurture vs nature debate to religion. And no one likes a smart arse — especially not when he’s an Eton-educated smart arse with a title, an estate (built on coal-mining) and an unfortunate reputation as the man who was chairman of Northern Rock when it had to be bailed out by the taxpayer — do they?

What I find almost more interesting than the book, though, is the way it has been reviewed by those of a bien-pensant persuasion — most notably John Gray in the Guardian. He hated it. So much so, it’s pretty clear to me, that he couldn’t even bring himself to read it. Or if he did read it, he was so consumed by righteous rage that he couldn’t bring himself to address any of the utterly disgusting points made in the book.

There’s lots of invective and lofty contempt: ‘bumptious and tediously repetitive tract’; ‘if he was a more serious and reflective writer, Ridley might…’ [‘if he were’, surely?]; ‘a dated and mechanical version of right-wing libertarianism’. Plus, there’s a whole paragraph of ad homs, majoring on Eton, titles and Northern Rock. Precious little on what the book actually says.

Basically, what it says is that evolution is a phenomenon which extends far beyond Darwin to embrace absolutely every-thing. The internet, for example. No one planned it. No one — pace Al Gore and Tim Berners Lee — strictly invented it. It just sprang up, driven by consumer need and made possible by available technology. As Ridley says: ‘It is a living example, before our eyes, of the phenomenon of evolutionary emergence — of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer.’

Which is what, of course, is such anathema to control freaks everywhere, from the Chinese, Iranian and Russian regimes to Barack Obama, who famously declared in 2012: ‘The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet.’

Read the rest in the Spectator.

Just What Is It That Greens like George Monbiot Find So Offensive about Prosperity, Abundance, Happiness?

George “Grinch of the Guardian” Monbiot has launched a bitter assault on the most lively, uplifting and downright brilliant pop science masterpiece you are likely to read this year. Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist (4th Estate).

Ridley argues a case so palpably true, so richly supported by so much evidence, that it ought not to need stating: life is getting better for almost all of us – and at an accelerating rate. The habit of exchange and specialisation, unique to the human species, has enabled us to evolve a kind of collective brain, a communal intelligence which allows us to make stupendous technological advances while other creatures – yes even those brilliant dolphins – remain stuck pretty much where they were 100,000 years ago.

The fact that Ridley’s argument sounds fresh and controversial rather than a statement of the bleeding obvious speaks volumes for the prevailing pessimism of our age. (And all ages actually. Every generation thinks things aren’t as good as they used to be…)

Entirely typical of this knee-jerk pessimism is Monbiot’s petulant attack on the man he describes as “a state-hating free marketeer”. He dwells lovingly on Ridley’s disastrous experiences as chairman of Northern Rock, before laying in to the vilely repellant optimism of this despicable Big-Government-hater’s loathsome thesis:

…it’s the same old cornutopian nonsense we’ve heard one hundred times before (cornutopians are people who envisage a utopia of limitless abundance)

Fine. But what Monbiot doesn’t manage to do in this frenzy of puritanical spleen and ad hom is in any way to demonstrate that Ridley is wrong.

Monbiot makes a number of accusations against Ridley, all of which Ridley very easily rebuts on his website. Ridley’s thesis stands.

The world IS getting better.

One of the many excellent examples Ridley gives to prove this is when he compares the amount of time it has taken through the ages to be able to afford an hour’s reading light. In 1800 a tallow candle would have cost you six hours’ work. In 1880 a kerosene lamp would have cost you fifteen minutes work. In 1950 a conventional filament bulb would have cost you 8 seconds’ work. Today, it will cost you less than half a second of your working time.

Clearly, to scowling Lord-Whiteadder-style puritans like Monbiot this is anathema. Maybe that’s why they’re so keen to push up energy prices. And if Chris Huhne and Dave Cameron get anywhere with their massive “low carbon” energy programme, maybe they’ll succeed.

Why, who knows, with luck, Monbiot and his fellow Watermelons might even take us back to that glorious era in 1750 BC when they knew how to treat energy with the respect it deserves. Back then, an hour’s reading time for a sesame oil lamp would have cost you more than 50 hours’ work.

Related posts:

  1. George Monbiot: the new Christopher Hitchens?
  2. Climategate: George Monbiot, the Guardian and Big Oil
  3. I have faith in George Monbiot’s sincerity, whoever’s paying him
  4. Is George ‘Jello’ Monbiot too chicken to debate ‘Global Warming’ with an expert?

4 thoughts on “Just what is it that greens like George Monbiot find so offensive about prosperity, abundance, happiness?”

  1. Brian H says:6th June 2010 at 1:24 amRidley will be delighted, and Monbiot shattered, when a year or so from now the proof-of-concept is successful. Depending on where you live, it will drive down the cost of energy by 1-2 orders of magnitude. With zero waste.
  2. Pete M says:6th June 2010 at 8:42 amIf Monboit is such a true believer in the apparent (in his mind at least) failure of capitalism he is, as all like minded people are, to relinquish his lifestyle for that of the true believer in environmentalism that he must be.As someone wrote recently, people like Monbiot could move to Africa and enjoy a low carbon lifestyle. How long would he survive? Could he actually manage it as his only option to live?

    The biggest question is why don’t Monbiot and his like actually do it? We know the answer. They can no more give up their capitalist lifestyle than stop breathing (that being an option for the proponents of supposed over population).

    Capitalism needs adjusted which the coming financial adjustments may provide when people wake up once again and take to the streets. Certainly the wave of change in the USA is growing and an imminent correction apparent already.

    Come on Monboit. Show us what you are made of and morally adopt the lifestyle you deem fit for your beliefs!

  3. Pete Hayes says:6th June 2010 at 9:52 amSeems monybot has got over his shock about the email!
  4. James W says:9th June 2010 at 4:04 amHow very nice for Monbiot to hold these views whilst living in a large farm-house in mid-Wales.

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