Salvini supporters are publicly calling for Greta Thunberg to be assassinated

I wrote here two days ago that the cutting edge fashion in global fascism is to abandon climate denial and seek to co-opt concern for the environment rather than disdain it; Marine Le Pen, for example, no longer sees climate change as a Jew-led conspiracy but as a golden opportunity to push her agenda of global genocide. It’s since transpired that Italy is behind the French on this score. Although de facto Italian leader Matteo Salvini would no doubt approve of the means Brenton Tarrant used to put his beliefs into practice – the Australian fascist had the name of Salvini’s ally and ex-Lega candidate Luca Traini written on one of his guns – the terrorist’s self-description as an “eco-fascist” would seemingly cause Salvini some puzzlement, judging by the reaction of his supporters to the worldwide Climate Strike on Friday.

This article (in Italian) details the comments made by several pro-Salvini personaggi, some of them prominent in the Italian media, over the last few days. The writer and TV personality Maria Giovanna Maglie called for the Swedish teenage activist to be “mown down by a car”, while the former pop star Rita Pavone called her “a character from a horror movie”. Diego Fusaro, a political philosopher whose self-definition as a “Marxist” should be taken with un grandissimo pezzo di sale, accused the 16-year-old of being part of a plot by the “cosmopolitan elite” (hem hem). The well-known climate liar and founder of the daily newspaper ‘Il Foglio’, Giuliano Ferrara, tweeted “I don’t want to be accused of pedophobia, but I detest this idolatrous figure Greta and her disgusting braids, and the false world of lies she weaves round herself”. The hashtag #nogreta was trending among supporters of Salvini’s neofascist Lega party and its fellow travellers/coalition partners in the Five Star Movement, some of whom still, bizarrely, style themselves as environmentalists and even, in some outlandish cases, anti-racists. Salvini himself joined in with a typically puerile Trump-style tweet welcoming global warming as it will mean more “herbs”, a comment which will delight those among the Five Star Movement who aren’t in outright denial about Salvini’s being in power. A Five Star supporter I spoke to on Friday confirmed what I’d heard elsewhere, in that he felt that Salvini and the Lega “weren’t really” in control of the Government and that the self-confessed fan of Mussolini should be given “more time” to implement his agenda, which includes forcibly evicting and deporting hundreds of thousands of neri, protecting the Mafia by removing police protection from journalists who investigate them and building a European far-right alliance with Kaczynski, Orbán, Le Pen, and all those other names far too depressing to mention.

I’ve read* that those who voted for the electorally larger but politically junior element in his coalition (one of whom (although few people can remember whom) is nominally Prime Minister) pay little to no attention to ‘MSM’ accounts of what the Lega gets up to, putting their faith instead in the blog of their guru Beppe Grillo, a Pied Piper demagogue with a…colourful personal history**. Grillo has in the past blustered about climate change but in case anyone had their hopes up that his movement represents a progressive form of populism, also once proclaimed that “Anti-fascism is outside my purview” and tweeted that Rome is full of “swamped by rats, rubbish and illegal immigrants”. In a devastating article detailing Italy’s ‘descent into barbarism’, the universally respected journalist Roberto Saviano writes:

When people speak in general terms of populism in relation to this government they risk obscuring truly alarming facts on the ground with abstract political labels. There is no doubt that the blind eye this administration turns to racist attitudes has had serious consequences. Cynically the government gives a nod and a wink to extremist groups whose votes they do not want to lose.

The fact that Grillo’s blog has been called “the largest source of fake news in Europe” also helps explain why the Five Star Movement is far more committed to ensuring that kids aren’t protected from life-threatening diseases than it is to defending children who stand up for the environment from far-right death threats. At least it can’t be accused of incoerenza.

*The Lega/M5S Fascist/Moron coalition is a Rorschach blot, albeit with merda rather than ink. From that link: “The alliance between the Five Star party (the post-crisis ‘populists’) and the League (the xenophobic ‘populists’) is arguably functioning because of the borders around their electorates’ news sources. Occasionally I come across people who actively support both Five Star and the League. Far more common, however, are supporters of one party who are effectively ignorant of the policies of the other. For example, a Salvini supporter might rail on about how the closure of the ports will save Italian women from predatory Africans, but will have nothing to say about Five Star’s economic policies. On the other hand, a gloating Di Maio worshipper will happily praise the wonders of Five Star’s citizens’ income proposal or their anti-corruption stance, but will actively disassociate themselves from the League’s racism. And this is exactly the tactic of the separation of Ministerial powers: Di Maio, minister for jobs and welfare, makes no pronouncements about migration. But neither does his party. Search Five Star’s Facebook page, and you’ll find no mention of the Salvini law, as if it simply hasn’t happened. The same is true vice versa (with the exception of pension reforms, which the League takes as one of its central policies).”

**The M5S Party Line is that it was “ice on the road” that caused Grillo to crash his car and kill three people. That wasn’t the verdict of the court.

Stunning photos show breathtaking scale of Friday’s MASSIVE pro-Brexit protest

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On Thursday evening Nigel Farage tweeted his outrage that Parliament had just voted to extend Article 50. Within seconds his well-oiled party machines were in operation, as word spread, buses were booked, and 17,410,742 people, every single one of whom shares his profound anger at this unconscionable affront to democracy and is ready to put all of his time, energy, livelihoods, personal freedom and physical safety at the disposal of the fight for sovereignty, prepared to march on Westminster for the largest demonstration the country had ever seen.
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I arrived about 1pm, by which point it was very hard to get anywhere near Parliament Square, let alone close to the House of Commons itself.
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At one point I was genuinely concerned for my safety. No one had – no one could have – anticipated such numbers.
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It’s hard to convey in a mere photo just how many ordinary British people had taken to the streets to express their fury at the news that Brexit probably won’t happen as scheduled. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Owen Jones, as I had taken with a pinch of salt his warnings that the country would spontaneously explode in revolt if Brexit were impeded for even a second. This photo shows how my complacency was completely misplaced. And this is on a weekday! Imagine the size of Saturday’s protest!!! Clearly those elements of the pro-Brexit campaigns who suggested they just organise a PR stunt in Royston Vasey because they simply don’t have the numbers for a large national protest, and in any case whenever there has been a demo in London the only people who turn up are football hooligans, which shows that the only argument against calling the whole fucking thing off, which is that there’d be a nationwide breakdown in social order, is wrong, were, er, wrong. I apologise for the previous sentence.
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Fortunately they had quickly arranged a platform so the voices of the popular heroes of the #Lexit movement could be heard by all whom had come from so far and wide, etc. From the left, Kate Hoey (MP); Jennifer Helen Jones, aka Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (FSA); Alexander Theodore Callinicos (SWP/StWC/UAF/LMHR/IS/IRG/KCL/SA/RTR/RAR/ERG), son of Honorable Ædgyth Lyon-Dalberg-Acton; Daniel Hannan (MEP), who gave a very moving speech inspired by the Disney film ‘Dumbo‘; Tommy Robinson (HMP TBC); and on the far-right, the smallest, ugliest, piece of shit, Nigel Farage himself (PBUH).
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These young women were among many schoolchildren who had marched spontaneously out of their classrooms in order to demand that they and their families be restricted for the rest of their lives to a tiny-minded, petty, resentful, alternately arrogant and insecure, shit-fooded, self-pitying, racist island ruled over by either a climate-lying plastic aristocrat who probably believes in FGM or another climate-lying tinpot floppy-haired sociopathic c*nt called Boris.
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By this point the crowds were immense. Some had speculated that potential pro-Brexit protestors may have been put off from expressing allegiance to a far-right cause by news of the mass murder perpetrated in New Zealand by someone whose values are not all that very very different from those of Farage, Rees-Mogg, Trump et al. By the way, it wasn’t me who said that, it was him. Anyway they were wrong, look at the photo
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Small placard, too many words, poor ‘typology’, I was told by someone I subsequently got talking to in the pub. Chiara reckoned the last line is a bit patronising but once I’d mansplained to her that it was supposed to be ironic she calmed down a bit.

UPDATE: This post has now been superseded by “reality”.

UPDATE UPDATE: There is an…explanation (not an excuse!!!) for the low numbers:

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…or alternatively:

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See you next Saturday.

(Ps Although Farage’s photo op was absolutely pitiful and much of the ridicule it was greeted with hilarious, we may be falling into a bit of a trap, in that images of hardy, mud-soaked and rain-sodden ordinary British volk, battling not just the elements but universal opprobrium in their vain pursuit of national destiny, is an emblematic instance of the mythology that Fintan O’Toole pinpoints as the inspiration for Brexit in ‘Heroic Failures’. I’m sure both the Jarrow marchers and Farage’s true political ancestors in 1920s Italy were treated with disdain in their day, so the negative coverage is unlikely to daunt those who, having no idea of or concern for the risks involved, still support a no deal Brexit. So let’s hope the cameras and hashtags move on and the whole thing is swiftly forgotten. As Trump has shown, for the modern far-right movement ridicule is nothing to be scared of, and images of vainglorious victimhood can actually rally people to the cause. It’s quite probable that the organisers knew it would provoke this reaction, and that’s why they decided to do it. #youutterhypocrite #yesIknow)

Climate campaigners need to be extremely vigilant about eco-fascist discourse

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It’s been a central tenet of this website that the global rise in far-right sentiment is partly a displaced expression of repressed anger and fear about climate change. The context for Friday’s atrocity in New Zealand confirm that if that was ever true, it’s now becoming less so. I’d seen odd reports that some elements of the global far-right were abandoning climate denial in favour of what one might call genocidal eco-misanthropy, and had noticed that (for example) Marine Le Pen is no longer a climate denier. She’s ahead of the pack, given the influence of Bolsonaro and Trump in persisting in outright denial. There are a lot of pre-existing ideas that can easily be coopted by far-right newborn environmentalists, as Paul Caterell details here. I’ve long felt that initiatives such as the Dark Mountain project were so misanthropically Malthussian in their response to accelerating environmental meltdown as to share common ground with those inclined to see climate change not as a threat but an opportunity, and I’m not talking about the superficial TED Talks utopianism of so much that passes for ‘environmentalist’ discourse but something much more sinister.

The self-definition of the Christchurch terrorist as an “eco-fascist” led me to this article from the New Statesmen. It should alert everyone connected to environmental activism and climate campaigning to be extremely wary of discourses which unite deep ecology, geographical boundedness, animal rights, veganism, a return to the soil, and forefathers. Names to look out for include Pentti Linkola, Danielle Savoy and Savitri Devi, and images popular with eco-fascists include Norse runes (particulary the ‘life rune’ – see above), forests and what has been jokingly called ‘cabin porn’. The article has many more details about the linguistic and semiotic clues that may indicate the presence of eco-fascist ideology. It partly involves turning on its head the standard right-wing trope that Hitler was a vegetarian and an environmentalist. The most cutting edge fascists celebrate those aspects of Nazism, recognising that ‘Lebensraum’ was partly about creating an ecological utopia by cleaning up the toxic elements that were polluting it with their very existence*.

The core of eco-fascist discourse, and by far the most dangerous one, is overpopulation. On a recent Extinction Rebellion protest I was handed a glossy leaflet by David Attenborough’s charity outfit, the headline of which highlighted overpopulation as the core problem we face. Leaving aside the fact that had Attenborough not persisted in his climate denial for so long we probably wouldn’t have got to this point so early, his focus on overpopulation seems to be hugely problematic. If you claim that the problem with the world is the existence of too many people but are not willing to take the logical step of either killing yourself or not making any more, then the issue immediately gets reformulated into: there are too many other people. Which leads to the question: Who gets selected for eradication and/or sterilisation? Now, while we may be naïve enough to go on blithely claiming that it’s other people’s apathy and overconsumption that have caused the problem, we can’t pretend we don’t know what solutions those forces occupying or angling for power across the world, from the US to the UK to Brazil to Italy and elsewhere, are going to propose when things get really bad.

Of course, it’s natural and good that many people seek to change their own lives before telling everyone else to do so. The sudden plethora of vegan restaurants where I live in East London is remarkable. Am I suggesting that anyone who turns vegan is a potential fascist? Absolutely not. But at a time when lots of young people are educating themselves online and demanding that climate change be treated as an political emergency rather than being left as an awkward social taboo which most adults would rather suffer than combat, it’s incumbent upon us to identify, expose and exclude anyone linking land, nature and race.

There are very few eco-fascists who dare to take their principles offline and put them into practice; we just saw how destructive it can be when they set out to advertise their beliefs, to create mass rather than mere social media memes and to impress Rupert Murdoch as well as their fellow 4chan trolls. Most will do so at a somewhat more subtle level than Brenton Tarrant. What appear to be innocuous memes promoting sound environmentalist values may have hidden resonances, so we have to learn how to spot and call out all instances of language which seems to hint at a connection between blood and soil. For example, at that same XR demonstration someone got up and repeatedly used the phrase ‘our lands’. Was that person an eco-fascist? Almost certainly not. But as Foucault pointed out, there is a sense in which our words speak us rather than we them, in which ideas circulating in society have more power than the people who voice them. We can’t allow genocidal nihilism to infect the enthusiasm of this new generation of climate activists, most of whom get much of their information and ideas in the same forums where identitarian and eco-fascist memes circulate, pushing the notion that the main culprits for climate change are not corporate power and unfettered capitalism but mass migration and multiculturalism. Hence we need to be extremely vigilant about which words and images we use both on and offline and be particularly careful when addressing the thorny issue of overpopulation. Maybe it will come down to a battle of symbols: not the so-called “life” rune, symbolising life for our particular ethnic group and death to everyone else, but this symbol, representing the protection of the life chances of every single one of the true, universal Us.

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*It’s worth reading up on what Jared Diamond has to say about the link between environmental pressures and genocide in Rwanda; this presentation gives a brief account of it.

The problem with Corbyn: he isn’t left-wing enough

Andy Beckett (‘We exclude the Labour left from British politics at our peril‘) makes some valid points about the ‘othering’ of the Labour left, which combined with Corbyn’s haplessness at managing the party and at communicating his agenda has seemingly led Labour to the brink of self-destruction.

It’s not only left-wingers who point out that much written about Corbyn is untrue. But there’s certainly at least one sense in which Corbyn himself is insufficiently left-wing: his inability to think dialectically, as shown by his insistence last week that poverty and the climate are “more important than Brexit”. Actually those three phenomenon are inherently and intimately interlinked. In Marxist terms, there is a section of the ruling class that wants the UK out of the EU so it can escape all forms of regulation, particularly with regard to taxation and the climate. The fact that involves making most people immediately much poorer and, in the medium term, making everybody dead, is a mere and not particularly regrettable side-effect. They know that climate change is real and that austerity and Brexit are economic suicide – their mission is to take advantage of the mounting chaos in order to stamp out democracy and human rights and loot what’s left of the State. Corbyn’s role should have involved exposing and challenging the machinations that underpin this agenda, but tragically, given that in any age the dominant ideas are those that reflect ruling class interests, what dominates in many nominally left-wing fora is a disguised form of extreme conservatism which presents itself as radical, mostly taking the form of conspiracy theorising and railing against whatever scapegoats are made available by any passing troll or bot – witness the ease with which far-right ideas you to and including anti-Semitic tropes are insinuated into Corbyn-supporting Facebook groups, or drop by the Labour List website to see the extent to which arrant nonsense about a “WTO Deal” Brexit has taken hold of those who, like Italian M5S supporters cheering on Salvini, think of themselves as on the left while doing a job for the far-right. (Ecco a shining example of someone doing just that.) Partly due to the loose populism in such slogans as “For the many, not the few” and talk of “elites” and “the Establishment”, Corbyn’s supporters include many who have fallen into the same puerile ideological mentality as much of the Italian (former) left – lazy, easily manipulable populism – and he and his leadership haven’t known how (or have been insufficiently motivated) to challenge that.

That Corbyn himself is unable to recognise that austerity, climate denial and Brexit all form part of a concerted neoneoconservative assault on democracy, social provision and basic human rights, one which is – shock! Horror! – even worse than the braindead neoliberalism of the neo-Blairites suggests that neither does he have the intellectual wherewithal to respond to the myriad challenges that face him and us; while his acknowledgement that climate destruction is a class issue is welcome, his dismissal of Brexit as a mere “constitutional question” displays an idiocy which it’s hard not to conclude is wilful. What Britain needs is a local version of AOC, someone talented at articulating a modern (as in green, intersectional and digitally savvy) left-wing agenda in the face of the opprobrium such a project will inevitably face. Of course, no one can click their fingers and make such a figure magically appear, and Corbyn’s agenda has much to recommend it despite the resistance it faces and despite his apparent inability to communicate it effectively. But some on the left need to stop pretending that he’s doing a great job or that his leadership is our best and only hope.

“Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”

There’s a thread on Reddit called “Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”. It was presumably started by someone from the States, given their choice of epithet. It’s certainly not a word I’d use to describe myself, what with its uncomfortable evocation of tabloids and expattery. I saw some right-wing troll (or, more probably, bot) on Twitter using the term ‘Britons’ in relation to Brexit, suggesting that his normative understanding of British identity draws on a mythical idea of pre-Roman/Norman/Windrush purity without jollof rice or vaccines.

Nonetheless, it’s a fair question. I’m a ‘Brit’, if you like, and I don’t appear to be panicking, despite the fact that in three weeks’ time there may well be troops on the streets to quell potential food riots, and all sorts of infrastructures whose existence, let alone importance, I have remained blissfully aware of all my life could collapse overnight. (The amount of unknown unknowns is, inevitably, unknowable.) If there’s a glimmer of sanity in Theresa May’s head that scenario won’t quite come to pass (yet), but if so we can be sure that Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson will be doing all they can to spark an immediate civil war and (in Farage’s case) will be given plentiful access to the airwaves to do so.

Philip K. Dick wrote that sometimes it is an appropriate response to reality to go insane, and this would appear to be an opportune moment to do so, except for the fact that people all around the world are very noticeably not panicking about rapidly rising temperatures or the return of the far-right to power in some of the world’s most powerful countries, which might give us pause to think: how do we “panic” if no one else seems to be doing so? Perhaps I am panicking without quite being aware of it. After all, we already have food stored under the bed and precautionary plane tickets booked for the end of the month. And yet, in the meantime, we still need to eat, sleep, see friends, take the baby to the park, go to work; there are Michael Jackson documentaries to watch, and subsequent arguments to pursue online with people who (mystifyingly) refuse to accept the facts; there are articles to read which reflect intelligently on how we should react to the final evidence of Jackson’s corruption: should we continue to play his music? Write it and him out of history? And yet, it’s been a central element in our shared emotional life. More, one might even say, then the European Union…

So what’s a reasonable reaction to news that shakes the ground on which one stands? It may be rational to panic, to scream and run away, but where do we run to? It is, in the words of this article, “easier not to believe” such terrifying truths, especially when, away from social media, so few people seem to be even slightly perturbed by what’s happening. Maybe our sense of how to behave is akin to how we construct our identities: in the words of the sociologist Charles Cooley, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am”. The reason that British people are not panicking is partly that other British people are not panicking. After all, not panicking is what we’ve all been doing on a wider scale in relation to even more terrifying news about our climate.

No amount of frozen metaphors about frogs in boiling water or memes of dogs in burning rooms can begin to do justice to our failure to respond adequately to collective existential threats. Michel Foucault talked about how power operates through a shifting process of normalisation, where even the most radical changes to our daily lives can be incorporated into our picture of the world, while Pierre Bourdieu developed the concept of habitus, according to which it’s practically impossible for us to think beyond the parameters of our working assumptions about our lives and our reality. Not only do we live in an environment saturated with reassuring messages about the future, we live, speak and breathe those messages, reproducing them in our thoughts, posts, conversations and actions. We see adverts for events that take place in April, May and beyond, myriad timescales which take no notice of March 29th, market imperatives that must supercede whatever happens in news headlines, just as everyday life and consumption has so far managed to outlive any number of terrorist atrocities or climate catastrophes in cities we visited just a few weeks or months before and just as the global market was able to incorporate the election of Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini with nary a blink. When we were considering what to do at the end of March and trying to make plans for the following month, I made the following suggestion: Imagine we know there’s going to be a hurricane or a flood, one whole scale we can’t predict until just before it happens. But perhaps a better analogy, given that Brexit is first and foremost an ideological project, is a terrorist attack way beyond anything Isis could dream up; given the nature of such attacks, we don’t know whether it will hit the particular station or square we happen to be passing through, but it won’t stop us travelling or holidaying or going to work or shopping – although actually, you might want to strike that last one off the list, and the first and second come to think of it. As for our jobs… Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that the greatest strength and weakness of human beings is that we can adapt to any set of circumstances; post-modern society thrives on disruption, according to any number of Ted Talks. The statement that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has been attributed to everyone from Frederic Jameson to Slavoj Žižek to (I seem to recall) Peter Andre. In such a setting it’s impossible to overcome the sensation that, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in ‘Against the Day’, “there will always be time”.

But perhaps, in the end, Brexit is not the cause of the (apparent absence of) panic, but rather its consequence. Maybe panic is setting in at the level of politics, and that’s what Brexit, much like Trump, Salvini et al, is an effect of. Maybe for many people the notion that their decision has somehow had an impact on world events serves to assuage the sense of doom and helplessness they feel in their daily lives.

In the meantime, then: Michael Jackson. I’m writing this in an airport. All around me people are going on with their lives: chatting, sipping coffee, unfolding pushchairs, tapping out sanctimonious diatribes about other people’s complacency on their devices. It’s soundtracked at this moment by some Motown classic which might be called ‘I believe you’. If I sit here long enough I’m sure to hear one of the totems of our culture: maybe ‘ABC’, ‘Rock with you’ (one of my personal favourites) or maybe (possibly, apart from the pedophilia, his nadir) ‘They don’t really care about us’. On the way into the terminal I saw a young woman wearing the same jacket Melania Trump when she went to sneer at terrified children ripped away fron their parents: ‘I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO YOU?’. I briefly thought about remonstrating with her, but didn’t want to create a scene. Which raises the question: how does one show that one cares? And related to that: what does it mean to panic? Maybe initiatives such as this and this can help us to, to borrow a phrase, take back control of our fears and frustrations in a way that’s doesn’t involve lashing out at conveniently-placed scapegoats.

Update: Someone on Reddit responded to this piece by accusing its writer (me) of being ‘ill-informed’, ‘stupid’ and ‘apathetic’. Here is another version written especially for him:

Having posted to his blog yet another diatribe about how Other People’s inertia, apathy, laziness, complacency, cowardice, greed, ignorance and selfishness were responsible for austerity, Brexit, Trump, Salvini, Climate Change and so on, and how it was not just incumbent upon Other People but actually pressing, urgent (and some or other synonym for those previous two words) for those aforesaid Other People to take action up to and including risking their personal relationships, livelihoods, freedom and physical safety to stop, overthrow and/or prevent those things, there really was no higher priority for Other People than that as it was a matter not just of principle but also of survival, so basically why weren’t Other People panicking or revolting, what was wrong with those Other People, like were they all fucking stupid or mad or evil or something like that, having typed all that, chosen a fitting image, selected some appropriate tags and clicked Upload, he caught the train to St. Albans, took a wander round the local gallery/museum and perused the street market, stopped for lunch in a pleasant café before visiting the cathedral and graffiting the words ‘YES, WE ARE ALL TO SOME EXTENT APATHETIC AND COMPLACENT IN THE FACE OF SUCH TERRIFYING THREATS AND HORRIFYING REVELATIONS, WE TEND TO DENY OUR OWN ROLE IN QUIETLY ALLOWING ABUSE TO BE PERPETRATED, THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT’ on the walls of the 13th century crypt, and then catching the train back to London to spend the rest of the day reading a book about climate change denial, eating the remains of the curry he and his wife had ordered off Just Eat the previous evening and watching the rest of the Michael Jackson documentary.

The (near) impossibility of taking climate change seriously (enough)

I step away from the climate change demonstration and stroll down the street past the Queen Elizabeth II Convention Centre, where dozens of people are lazing around in the warm late February sunshine.

No, that doesn’t work.

I leave the global warming protest and amble down the road past the Queen Elizabeth II Congress Hall, where scores of individuals are enjoying the warm early spring warm rays of warmth from the warm late February warm sun.

I think I see the problem. It can’t be spring in February. Spring begins round about Easter, which this year (and I don’t think this has anything to do with climate change) isn’t until late April. Speaking of which, the 22nd isn’t really late February either; as TS Eliot would no doubt agree, February is the shortest month, so it’s actually mid-to-late February right now.

Naomi Klein wrote that climate change “speaks in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts”, which is certainly the case, but it also says things like “this is lovely” and “it’s like being in Greece!”. Given that I know several people who were planning to spend half-term skiing in Switzerland, this February heat actually feels a little…chilling. All the same, there are people on the steps outside the ICA eating ice-cream, and it would be to begrudge them their day in the sun. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about ‘the banality of evil’; few would have anticipated how pleasant the Apocalypse would turn out to be.

There’s a standard question that gets posed in EFL classrooms: what would you do if someone told you the world was going to end in seven days? The obvious answer, one that rarely comes up, is I wouldn’t believe them. What if we reframe the question: what are you doing in response to the overwhelming evidence, brought to us by all non-corrupted scientific authorities over several decades, that our way of life is destroying our habitat? The answer, if we judge our actions rather than our words, is the same. We don’t believe them.

In his book ‘Exterminate all the brutes’ Sven Lindqvist’ wrote about the roots of the Nazi genocide in European colonialism. He ended it with the words: “It is not knowledge we lack. It is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions”. As it happens, I’ve just witnessed an example of such bravery. Someone I’d been talking to just a few minutes before, the organiser of a protest at the almost total lack of climate change information contained in the National Curriculum, daubed the message TEACH THE TRUTH in red paint all over the entrance to the Department of Education, and then sat quietly in front of it waiting to be arrested. In doing so, he put both his freedom and his livelihood as a teacher at risk.

Billions of dollars have been spent covering up the causes and consequences of climate change. It’s only now, with the first generation to directly, unambiguously face its consequences coming of age, that the resultant taboo on taking it seriously is starting to, well, melt. Adult society is very adept at living amidst the starkest contradictions and most brutally unjust realities. Whether it’s our own society’s vivid legacy of racism and imperialism, or the staggering physical, psychological and social damage wrought by consumerism, we ignore a very great deal which should make us change how we think and behave.

What’s an appropriate response to Lindqvist’s exhortation to draw conclusions and (by implication) behave responsibly? How much courage do we need to take such actions? A couple of weeks ago in Bristol I came across graffiti reading “Anna lives!”. This is presumably a reference to Anna Campbell, the young local woman who went to Kurdistan and gave her life fighting for the YPG*. Reading about her life and her father’s tribute to her bravery put me in mind of the tribute in the Turner Prize 2017 show to the philosopher Simone Weil, who lived a profoundly ascetic existence in line with her principles. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the refusal to eat which led to her death, at the age of 34 in 1943 came from her desire to express solidarity toward the victims of the war.

If the alternative to quietude is too terrifying for the vast majority of us to contemplate (and I absolutely, but not proudly, include myself in that category), what are the broader consequences of passivity? We all, I presume, experience a sense of frustration with the world as it is, lashing out in various ways at random people and objects, usually through a screen, often (in my case) at the screen itself when some process gets in the way of my venting of my pent-up annoyances. Many fall for the oldest trick that power has up its sleeve: taking out their frustrations on conveniently-placed scapegoats. The Big Idea that inspired this website – more than a hunch than a theory – is that our civilisation’s response to the knowledge of its impending self-destruction is: racism. It can be no accident that all prominent far-right demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Salvini to Bolsonaro ad infinitum, have lying about climate change as a core principle.

But then, it would be wrong to attribute all the blame for our complacency on those in political power, or to pass the buck to the media for their incessant insistence on weasel words like ‘unprecedented’. We all (myself very much included) deny climate change by rarely bringing it up and changing the subject when it does come up. My project for the next few months, and the impulse for coming to the protest today, is to carry out academic research to find out how this works in classrooms. I need to make contact with climate-aware teachers who’ll let me observe their lessons and talk to me on record about what happened and happens in class. Would I have come to the demonstration had I not had that aim in mind? I’d like to think so, but then much like anyone else I do like to interpret my own (in)actions in a positive light. Had I stayed at home, I’m sure I would have been able to think of some plausible excuse to tell myself.

*****

I walk in the door to the sound of an extremely high-pitched and insistent sound. I recognise it at once: it’s that bloody smoke alarm bleating for a new bloody battery. When we first moved in here the same thing happened and it took a lot of cursing and banging to get it to shut the fuck up. I only managed to get the battery out and stick it back in place with substantial difficulty. Later, when the Grenfell Fire happened and we were living in Rome, I remembered that incident and wondered whether our then-tenant had ever had cause to need the smoke alarm. It must have been him who replaced the battery which is now expiring.

Unfortunately the beeping noise I’d being accompanied by another insistent cry: the baby is demanding something called bettabetta. She’s in the kitchen pointing at the cupboard and her demands are almost, but not quite, in perfect synch with the bloody beeping of this nightmare of an object, the design of which makes it very, very hard to access the battery. I can’t remember what bettabetta is and I’m trying desperately to hack the battery out of the device whose beeping is becoming more and more insistent.

The whole episode takes a full two minutes, less a Two-Minute Hate than a Two-Minute Extreme Frustration. As the battery finally pops out I manage to remember that bettabetta is the baby’s name for Weetabix. She calls it that because I’ve always referred to it weeta-beeta, which is actually, it’s turned out, too complex for a two-year-old old to articulate. (It subsequently transpires that she also calls it Weetabix.) I quickly stuff the smoke alarm back into its fitting on the ceiling and get out the milk and cereal. Once things are becalmed the baby remembers (DICO! DIIIICO!!!) that I promised we could have a Friday nite pre-pizza disco while we wait for her mum to arrive. I plug in the disco lights I bought for £9.99 on Amazon and, obedient to the whims of the iPod shuffle, we joyously frug around the living room to this.

*It would be wrong not to acknowledge that while Anna Campbell gave her life in the fight against Isis, Shamima Begum and her friends must have felt very deep down that they were doing the right thing in going to fight for Isis. That Begum still felt that way despite witnessing how horrendously her new friends regarded and treated her fellow women is not a point in her favour.

School children can see what adults won’t: Brexit, Trump etc are fuelled by collective denial of climate change

I was once on an Overground train in East London where every one of the other passengers, nine of them in total, was staring at their mobile device. My first impulse was to take my own phone out of my pocket and tweet about how appalling the situation was.

It’s very easy to criticise other people’s bad behaviour when it comes to phone use – it’s much harder to notice and control our own foibles. We all have a blind spot when it comes to our own culpability. As a teacher and the parent of a young child, I’m conscious that when it comes to educating younger generations, I’m in no position to pass on much grown-up with regard to certain topics.

This is true in a broader sense when it comes to the climate. I don’t know what a proportionate individual response to global warming is, so I dread to imagine how I’m going to address the issue when my daughter’s a bit older and starts asking the obvious questions. It would be morally abhorrent for my generation or those above and below mine to sit back, praise what Greta and her cohort are doing to demand climate action, and feel complacent about the future of humanity. To do so would be to completely ignore the content, tone and urgency of their message.

It’s a central tenet of this blog that our refusal to face up to our responsibility to keep our planet habitable and the global upsurge in racist sentiment are intimately connected. Repressed fear returns as displaced anger against whatever targets are conveniently made available. In very much the same way, while our Government is now in utter turmoil in response to the predictable chaos caused by a pet project of a cabal of xenophobes who also all just happen to be dedicated climate liars, people around the UK are hunched over their/our stupid devices furiously demanding the actual head of a definitely very stupid and clearly extremely traumatised teenage mother who found herself involved in aspects of the adult world she clearly had little or no meaningful comprehension of.

Meanwhile, in the face of open contempt from a Government which makes no pretence whatsoever to represent their interests, thousands of young people have walked out of their schools to try to break the adult taboo on taking climate change seriously. Either we respond to their call and finally start to own up to the absolutely urgent absolutely fundamental changes we have to make to our economic systems and our everyday lives, or the central organising principle of our reality will be systematic programmes of scapegoating which will make Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate seem like a harmless game of Angry Birds. To paraphrase the same novel: if there is hope, it doesn’t lie on our phones.

Open email to BBC World Service re their pitiful climate coverage

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Dear BBC World Service

I listened to your report on the impact of the ongoing Australian drought and was troubled by what I heard. My discomfort was partly due to the scale of the environmental catastrophe taking place, and partly due to the way in which your coverage omitted to provide certain details regarding the context.

You did mention (twice) that Australasia is ‘the world’s driest continent’ and refer to the record high temperatures across the country, but I wondered whether there might be anything of a historical process which might help to make sense of the lack of rainfall and such high temperatures. Might there also be precedents for the crisis in other parts of the world? Have any other regions, or indeed Australia itself, suffered from the effects of changes in weather patterns, with more extremes at either end of the scale? Has there been in an increase in the number of extreme weather events across the globe, with the numbers of hurricanes, floods, droughts and heatwaves all on the rise? If so, has anyone suggested any reason for this? Have any scientific bodies conducted research into the vital question of what might lie behind such changes? Presuming that this is the case (and it may have been helpful to break with BBC protocol and interview a climate scientist on this point), have specific measures, either local or international, been proposed to try to mitigate the probable causes? How have successive Australian governments responded to such proposals? Is there any suggestion that those who are causing the climate to change may also be seeking to obfuscate understanding of their role? Have certain corporate interests been influencing government policy and thus ensuring exponentially worse climate catastrophes in the future? Are there, in Australia or elsewhere, any researchers and/or campaigners who might be able to enlighten you and your listeners on this point?

I’m aware this may seem like a barrage of questions but I just want to ask you a couple more, with one very pressing one being: Why do you bother? Do you know what an absolute disservice you are doing to those who are suffering the impacts of climate change by refusing point-blank to acknowledge it? How does your blatantly dishonest reporting of the Australian drought tally with the other story highlighted on your website which is headed ‘It’s time to get angry over climate change’? Surely the best place to start is with media organisations which systematically shirk their responsibilities?

I do not expect to receive a response to any of these questions. I guess I’ll just have to figure the answers out for myself.

Yours

Rich Will

ps I would nonetheless like to commend you on not employing the word ‘unprecedented’, for a change. Ffs.

‘Tonight thank God it’s them’: Brexit, food, resentment and inequality

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I once taught ‘Business English’ to the owner of a hedge fund in Mayfair*. It turned out he’d started his company in the year 2008. That’s…auspicious, I remarked. Once I’d explained the word and helped him do a cost benefit analysis on whether it was worth committing to memory, he dismissed my suggestion that a financial company might have suffered the effects of a massive global financial crisis with the words “We’re above all that”.

Reflecting over the course of the last Midwinter Shopping And Stuffing Your Face Festival in its present form, I’ve been struck by the thought that Brexit represents something of the same order in relation to food. My mother grew up with rationing, and possibly as a result tends to overprovide at family gatherings. She’s lucky to be able to (just) afford to do so; anyone who’s been near the Department of Social Security of late knows that rationing exists again in the form of government-mandated food banks. The calculated humiliation involved may well have helped cause Brexit**, although anyone tempted by the ultraleftist notion that widespread suffering after March 29th will inevitably lead to revolution should be warned: people who’ve had the shit kicked out of them are less likely to fight back, in much the same way as no dead person has ever won a major boxing title. (Muhammed Ali doesn’t count, as although he did win some of his titles under a different name, he wasn’t dead when he did so.)

It was partly a seasonal internet kerfuffle in response to this tweet by an ardent Corbyn supporter that set me thinking about food, resentment, inequality and Brexit. Corbyn probably won’t be among the worst affected by food shortages, as he famously has an allotment. In, I will argue, much the same way, ‘people’ (or at least cartoon characters) like Rees-Mogg have enormous estates which could easily and profitability be farmed by the idle poor, so they’re more likely to see mass starvation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

As the fog clears around Brexit and reveals itself to have been steam on a ever-freshly replenished mound of shit, certain themes become clear. They are gathered and explored in Fintan O’Toole’s excellent book ‘Heroic Failures: Brexit and the politics of pain’, which details how this particular stew of self-aggrandisement, self-pity and resentment of others was concocted, and how it’s led to everyone on HMS Shit Britain looking, if not queasy, then certainly depressed.

Food snobbery is one of those themes. Only an outside observer could have noticed our ongoing pathologies in our relationship with food and our attitudes towards others’ eating habits. O’Toole recalls Boris Johnson’s championing of cheap, popular food in the form of Prawn Cocktail crisps and his sneering at metropolitan liberals’ taste for Italian peasant cuisine while he himself continued to enjoy the very best that Tuscany has to offer. Class resentment and the manifold hypocrisies it entails found expression in the fetid burp that was the Brexit vote. Just as Johnson would not dream of even sniffing at a Turkey Twizzler, Rees-Mogg has no more set foot in a Tesco Metro than his ancestors sacrificed themselves for glory little more than a century ago. Brexit embodies not so much the spirit of the Blitz as the loud, clear echoes of the sacrifice of the Somme. An upper-class version of British history may exhort us to sacrifice ourselves pro patria, but it’s the martyrdom of others further down the scale which tends to result.

Just as a century ago ruling class generals boasted of greater glory and honour while casually tossing away millions of lesser lives, failed negotiator David Davies appeared on Question Time in December 2018 talking of a so-called “no-deal” Brexit as the country’s “Destiny”; much as crowds lined the streets in 1914 to cheer the soldiers off to war, Davies’ vainglorious appeal was greeted with wild applause. I also heard loud, clear echoes of Mussolini. The line between the hard right and the far-right is an increasingly thin one.

At our family Christmas, conversations (thankfully) steered clear of Brexit, revolving instead around food: various tropes which involve bitching about what our neighbours in the supermarket queue are and aren’t consuming. In his book ‘The Chinese’ Jasper Becker identifies Chinese peasants’ dreams of abundant food as the main ingredient in Chinese history. The murky gravy that is ‘British identity’ always seems to contain several lumps of resentment of and scorn for others’ eating habits, and even the fact that they get to eat at all. There was a telling moment a while back when Michael Gove started raging that China had refused to take any more of our plastic and burn it for us. For the leading Brexit conspirators such as him, the fact that those Chinese peasants nowadays gorge on cheap chicken and pork and can no longer be forced to consume British opium seems to fuel their righteous fury.

This mentality, that it is our god-given right to make others suffer for our own benefit, can be traced back at least easily as far as the Irish and Bengal famines. Ironically it was a pair of c*lts (Bob Geldof and Midge Ure) who created the modern hymn to this aspect of Empire. That high priest of celebrity sanctimoniousness Bono didn’t write the song, but he did caterwaul the most obnoxious line, sounding while doing so like he was off his face on piety. Viewed in emotional sobriety, the lyrics embody a certain strain of Catholicism particularly prevalent in the Ireland of the 1950s-60s: nuns collecting for little black babies, for the godless barely deserving of the life that we may, in our infinite charity and mercy, deign to grant them with.

We might look kindly on the original audience for the song given its very 1980s commodification of pity, its witless neo-Victorian platitudes and staggeringly offensive generalisations in an era characterised by the ‘late failure of radical hopes’. But it struck me that its continued popularity (even, I’d venture, increasing prominence) speaks of resentment, of celebrating the suffering of others. Bono’s line ‘Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you’ put me immediately in mind of O’Toole discussion of the concept of ‘sadopopulism’: the willingness to inflict pain on oneself on the understanding that by doing so you are making your enemy suffer more. You might think of it as cutting off your own nose to spite your neighbour’s face. In another echo of Empire and of slavery, it recalls Ta-Nehesi Coates’ explanation of the racism of poor whites in the American South: as long as they had someone else to look down upon, they felt secure. Upon seeing a black man in the White House they revolted against their reduced status, and Trump was the result. Similar dynamics operated in the UK with regard to the loss of Empire, and the result was not just (contrary to what Paul Gilroy argued) mere melancholy, but the bigoted fury of Geoffrey Bloom, the woman on the Croydon tram and many (but not all) of those who voted to leave the EU.

Thus does Brexit represent a case of (chlorinated) chickens coming home to roost. This is exacerbated in the case of those who know they won’t suffer, in the proud British tradition of offering up others’ lives for sacrifice. One TV survivalist stated openly on Twitter what Farage et al must surely be saying off-camera: that maybe a period of intense poverty and suffering will teach ‘us’ a valuable lesson. (This might give us pause to think, post-Bros documentary, about the relationship between celebrity and fascism, but for the fact that, as Labour’s purported Brexit strategy somehow fails to acknowledge, we don’t have much time.***)

At least Thatcherite self-interest as an ideology had a logic to it, whether that involved the famous boats of grain being dumped in the sea to ensure that failed Ethiopian consumers didn’t buck the market, or young people eventually smashing shop windows to simply take that which they had long been tormented by their (individual, always individual) failure to obtain legitimately. But in essence Johnson and Rees-Mogg are not neoliberals. They don’t actually believe all that Raabian horseshit about buccaneer entrepreneurship. One might call them neocons, in that their primary dedication is to preservation of their own wealth and power. I find it more useful to think of them as elitists. One wonders what Thatcher (pbuh) would have made of Johnson’s ‘Fuck business!’ comment. Capitalism is after all only one means of preserving elite power. Farage’s equally underreported line about dressing up in khaki points to an as yet unquenched desire for hard rather than soft power. Tragically, Labour (and Owen Jones) chose not to see that Tommy Robinson failed the shock troop audition. “3,000 racist internet trolls” is the eloquent answer to the question of how well prepared the far-right is to maintain order.

*           *           *           *           *

As things stand now, on the 6th January, there appears to be an overlap between Rees-Mogg and the Labour leadership’s desire to make Brexit happen whatever the cost. In the current climate it’s not impossible to imagine Corbyn being photographed sneaking out of Rees-Mogg’s Mayfair apartment late at night. I made the then-barmy prediction that Rees-Mogg would somehow end up Tory leader, but I didn’t  foresee that their interests would align. (If only I was better at thinking dialectically…). It would be nice to be able to dismiss out of hand Nick Cohen’s very-Nick Cohen-esque argument for Corbyn as an ultraleftist looking to exploit social breakdown to storm the Winter Palace, but that word ‘climate’ reminds me that one of his closest supporters is someone who may well have sat round the same family table for the Christmas nutroast: his distinctly undigestible brother. Not only does Piers have a day job providing hysterical weather predictions to the Daily Express, he also takes money from climate-lying organisations to turn up to events related to climate change to barrack those trying to save the human race. He’s very much in favour of a no-deal Brexit, and he also thinks Jeremy would make an excellent PM. Reflecting on this makes me fear that if elected Jeremy’s first act would be to appoint David Icke as Minister for Lizard Eradication.

I don’t know whether Corbyn has studied in anything like sufficient detail the reports of what will happen in the event of a no deal scenario*****. (For the record he says he finds the notion “absolutely unacceptable”, but then he hasn’t come with a meaningful alternative beyond popping back to Brussels and renegotiating the whole thing in the space of two or so weeks. I presume this means he doesn’t mind offending the intelligence of everyone including those Labour voters who voted to leave.) He is a romantic rather than intellectual, one who gives the impression that after reading ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ in 6th form he thought, right well that’s all I’ll ever need to know about the world. When I was living in Rome I never got round to visiting the Keats and Shelley house, but I will have time to do so if we end up moving back there. Even Italy’s madcap government of criminals and clowns isn’t evil and insane enough to starve its own people out of pure ideological zealotry.

Anyone who doesn’t understand the stakes for the UK economy would be well-advised to reflect on how many Just Eat signs they see on failing fast food establishments interspersed with boarded-up shops on their next promenade down the nearest rapidly-running-down high street. Or consider the amount of people employed in food distribution and services compared to the number employed in agriculture. No external food supply means no economy. Britain’s is a consumer society based, as the caption on a Modern Toss cartoon once eloquently put it, on everyone eating like a fucking pig all the time. What is in prospect makes Trump’s years-long government shutdown seem measured and sensible. And it makes those who actually argue for a so-called “no deal” (final) solution look distinctly like Pol Pot.

As with climate breakdown, the only thing that matches the scale of the crisis in store is the extent to which almost everyone one meets has absolutely no intention of doing a single thing to prevent it. Like Chinese peasants after Jiang Zemin, we now have more than enough winter provisions of conspiracy theories, consoling fairy tales, fireside folk narratives to stave off the (actually, for some reason, not all that) cold and keep us over-entertained. If there was an in-out referendum on WiFi or food, I’m not all that sure we’d make the right choice. Do you want a stable climate or an iPhone? Would you prefer Netflix or death*****? At least if we can get online we can gorge on resentment, even if we have nothing left to eat.

The latest news about Brexit is that we ‘may’ be short of such rare delicacies as bananas and tomatoes but that’s okay because mid-spring is when so much excellent and bountiful English produce comes into season (instant fact-check: it isn’t). 40% of what we eat comes directly from the EU: everything else we import comes via it. The “no deal” plan is to stop trading in food. It is a no food scenario. This is shock doctrine as anorexia. Maybe Corbyn, who has yet to utter in public the only word that currently has meaning (revoke!) is under the impression that, like him, everyone in the country has access to an allotment. Perhaps his brother convinced him over a vegan mince pie that it’s going to be a particularly warm early spring for no discernible reason and that prize turnips and supermarrows will abound in Brexit Britain, before the whole family joined hands for a rousing rendition of ‘Do they know it’s Brexit?’.

Whatever happens, here’s a prediction: there won’t be any charity songs in the UK next Christmas time. The only gift we’ll get next year is…fuck knows. Some bananas and tomatoes, hopefully. “Where nothing ever grows…”. My mum grew up without bananas, but my baby daughter loves them. As for tomatoes, I’ve kept a few extra tins to hand so I can throw them very hard at anyone who still supports fucking Lexit.

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* That’s right: I’ve wasted my life and we are already in hell.
** It’s unlikely that Daniel Blake would have voted to stay in the EU.
*** Seeing as this piece partly addresses the psychological phenomenon of displacement activity, it behoves me to mention that I’ve actually got two actual essays to write.
**** I’ve been enjoying the series ‘Sunderland til I die’, I think partly because there is viele Schadenfreude in seeing a city which voted to leave the EU then get ejected from the Premier League and then the Championship in successive seasons.
***** I’d also be quite curious to know whether or not Jeremy Corbyn watches, as well as appearing on, Russia Today. I can imagine him enjoying Slavoj Zizek’s new chat show, which I’m not going anywhere near as my Youtube suggestions still haven’t recovered from the time I watched eight or nine seconds of David Icke-enthusiast and aspiring Beppe Grillo Russell Brand’s interview with J*rdan P*t*rson. Russell, if you’re reading this, read a fucking book for a change; and while I’m at it, if you happen to work for Youtube, no I’m not interested in even more racist videos, thank you very much.

Ps Just in case anyone thinks I’ve overegged how fucked up this country has become, here is a photo taken in Manchester today of people protesting against…Jesus it’s too depressing to even finish this sentence

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