First they abandoned the Puerto Ricans

I once tried to watch a documentary about the political status of Puerto Ricans. With all its myriad details of unincorporation vs statehood vs self-determination, it was considerably less entertaining than ‘West Side Story’. Now, for more than three million people, such issues may be a matter of life and death.

Donald Trump doesn’t know much about Puerto Rico either. He’s been told that it’s an island, and sort-of foreign and sort-of not, but he also knows that the people there can’t vote. He’d really rather just tell people things are going great and go and play golf. It doesn’t matter to him what happens to the people there. It’s an island, for Christ’s sake. Trump wouldn’t have the capacity to help even if he wanted to. He just has no intrinsic motivation to care about people who can’t do anything for him in return. (EDIT: The US has brought back Trump’s five predecessors to coordinate the reconstruction, due to the fact that the current office-holder so obviously does not give a shit.)

Trump also has no impulse control. Since he became president, he’s spent more than two months on the golf course. Although (as I wrote shortly after the inauguration) he’s the kind of leader that the US has imposed on so many other countries, it’s not so much that (as some claim) he’s following an authoritarian playbook; he’s too stupid, arrogant and lazy to read. Instead he’s an instinctive tyrant, his instincts conditioned by the crudest imaginable form of Social Darwinism. The notion that life is all about competition is a suitable ideology for someone who’d already been awarded the gold medal before they’d even drawn their first breath. This is not story he tells himself, of course. He just knows he’s entitled to go and play golf whenever he feels like it. His ideology, then, is Neoliberalism at its most basic: the market works for me, so it must work for everyone else. More competition is always good, because I’m the guy who owns all the starting pistols and the finishing tape. Now kneel before me – or, rather, stay on your feet or I’ll use the starting pistol on you.

Now, such a person has an instinctive understanding of threat posed by climate change. To people like Trump, the idea that society might – indeed, must – become more cooperative is worse than the reality that our habitat is collapsing. As Naomi Klein has cogently argued over the last few years, capitalism (particularly in its turbocharged, scorched earth variety) is simply incompatible with the continued existence of our species.

Of course, it’s easy to blame our leaders for our plight. There’s also the question of our own responsibility. We, as a ‘civilisation’, long ago collectively decided to ignore the implications. That is, after all why Trump was elected: there’s nothing less real than reality TV, so one way to escape from a frightening reality was to elect a reality TV star, someone who plays the role of a tycoon for the cameras. Facebook, Twitter have happened along, not quite by chance, at just the right moment to enable us to screen out those aspects of reality that make us uncomfortable. It’s no accident that Trump once declared that “All I know is what’s on the internet“. While Obama was the first black president, Trump is the first internet one. (Not to mention the “first white president“.)

Puerto Rico is an instructive case. It’s not like parts of Bangladesh, Houston, or Miami, i.e. part of a larger territory into which our perception of its suffering can be subsumed. It’s isolated, so presents a very stark test case of whether or not we actually give a flying fuck about our future. If we don’t respond to calls like that of the Mayor of San Juan, and not just with donations but with political action, we are truly lost. Every city on earth will face similar existential crises,often part of bigger ones, like the coming wave of crop failures. The market – the rising price of food and energy, which some are lucky to be able to afford – will only protect us so far. Its not just that our current leaders will let us starve or drown, they will actively ignore our plight just as they denied the circumstances that made it inevitable. We have to recognise that what is happening in Puerto Rico is a climate catastrophe, part of a much larger and even deadlier global transformation, and act accordingly by making sacrifices on behalf of those already suffering and by getting rid of political leaders who refuse to even acknowledge the nature of the crisis. We must build local and international solidarity networks and demand that those we elect to govern our cities develop infrastructure to withstand the inevitable. If we don’t do these things, there will be no one left to speak up for us.

We can no longer ignore why hurricanes – and earthquakes – are getting stronger

Earthquake Strikes Mexico City

“You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” Sven Lindqvist.

If you’re not Mexican and you’ve lived in Mexico City, you’ve probably lived or hung out in La Condesa, with its tree-lined avenues, pavement cafes and energetic night-time economy. My wife and I recently spent a wonderful year (May 2015-May 2016) living in a 3rd-floor apartment on the corner of Calle Campeche and Calle Cholula, above a branch of the taco chain Tizoncito. Having seen the destruction around Avenida Amsterdam, just a very pleasant three-minute stroll or two-minute jog away, I hope our former home is still standing and that everyone who was in the building is safe and sound.

I experienced three small earthquakes in my time in DF (the most common local name for the city). The first time I didn’t notice, or at least I saw belatedly on Twitter that there’d been an ‘#alertasismica’. I subsequently tried to find out if the public alarm system had actually worked, because I certainly hadn’t heard it. The second tremor apparently took place while I was in the metro one afternoon – I only heard about it in retrospect. The third one took place during our farewell party. As about 20 or so of us bounced round our ultimately oversized apartment at 3am, someone pointed out that the lampshade seemed to have joined in with the manic dancing. Sure enough, when we went to peer over the balcony, the staff and straggling customers of the taco joint were gathered in the street looking a bit chastened. Ah, chingale, we thought, and went straight back to ‘Born Slippy’. It turns out that we were immensely lucky.

By far the strongest and longest earthquake I’ve felt wasn’t actually in Mexico. It took place in Rome a few months after we’d left DF, on the eighth floor of the maternity hospital where my wife would just a few weeks later give birth to our first child. We were visiting a fellow couple and their brand new baby when the water in a plastic bottle began to shake, and then the building began to wobble. Everyone went quiet – I think that was one of the uncanny things about it. Outside, down in the street, some people were gathered in small groups and others were just getting on with their lives. It seemed to go on for several minutes but afterwards the sensation of physical distress and disorientation went on for more than a week. I immediately felt inspired to write this short piece of absurdist satire in an attempt to turn my fear into something…useful? Meaningful?

The stories I’ve read in the media and posted by friends in the last few hours are genuinely shocking. By no means do I want to make a disaster I didn’t even experience about me, but knowing those streets and recognising some of the buildings, not to mention worrying for the safety of friends who still live nearby, has been a sobering experience. There have also been reports of acts of immense courage. For all its manifold cracks and faults, I felt that Mexico City is a place in which those who share space look out for one another to a greater extent than in both London and Rome, especially given the relative absence of the State. Events like this, and those in Florida and the Caribbean over the last few weeks are not a good advert for cutting back on the provision of centrally-funded emergency services.

The courage that ordinary Mexicans display in continuing to make do in the midst of constant dangers, big and small, from disappeared daughters to bent traffic policemen, is immense. Partly by virtue of living in Condesa, we were sheltered from so many of the threats that chilangos take for granted. I hope that if I were still there I’d have the bravery and integrity to help out. It’s becoming clear now that, wherever we live, the rest of our lives now will both trigger our instincts of self-preservation and also necessitate acts of great selflessness. I pray that incidents like Brexit and the election of Trump are not conclusive evidence that the two are mutually opposed.

Although I’d be hard-pressed to compare it to dragging people put of broken buildings, it did take something like courage to investigate something I’d purposefully been avoiding: the relationship between earthquakes and the changing climate. This article, by the highly-respected academic Bill McGuire, sets out the link. It turns out that as the planet heats up (and particularly as deeply-compacted ice melts, and hurricanes hammer at the surface), the earth shifts. (Incidentally, if you haven’t read the article, which was published in an eminently reputable publication and summarises the results of some very extensive research which took place over several decades and was subject, like all significant academic research, to extensive and rigorous peer-review based on the systematic application of doubt, please do not comment below.)

It’s immensely difficult to talk about climate change. We’re neither evolutionarily equipped nor socially encouraged to take it seriously. The most powerful forces on the planet employ endless legions of trolls to shout down any discussion of its causes and effects, often in the name of (ahem) “free speech”*. Republican and Conservative politicians insist that it’s never the right time to address planetary overheating, particularly at those moments when its consequences are most visible and stark. Anywhere I post this online there will immediately attract those who, without having digested or even nibbled at its contents, will insist on screaming with spluttering toddler-like outrage that someone has had the temerity to try to feed them the C-words. Their campaign of intimidation around an almost impossibly intimidating subject has made climate change into a taboo, a heresy.

Now, in 2017, everyone – particularly politicians and journalists – who talks about hurricanes without mentioning the changing climate is being cowardly and dishonest. We also owe it to each other, and to the new generation, the one which, absolutely blameless, is already here, to face up to the fact that our failure to even discuss the dangers before us has much deeper consequences than we blithely assumed. An essential step is to get rid, by any means necessary, of those ‘leaders’ who, by means of scapegoating and by encouraging inane conspiracy theories, deny reality on our behalf. They are the sort of people who should have hurricanes named after them: #HurricaneRickScott or #HurricaneScottPruit may have had more useful political impact than #HurricaneIrma. Perhaps, given his government’s stated intention to throw limitless amounts of fossil fuel onto the fire, this particular disaster should go by the name of Enrique Peña-Nieto.

* Such people specialise in belittling the suffering of anyone with darker skin, so climate change is an ideal topic for their trolling.

No one deserves to lose their home to a hurricane. Well, almost no one.

The question of whether or not it’s acceptable to use violence to stop fascism was resolved to the satisfaction of pretty much the entire human race in the middle of last century. Few in the late 1940s would have had much respect for the notion that genocide is merely a expression of the right to free speech. But if, as Patrick Mcgrath argued cogently this week, fascism is a monster which keeps growing new heads, then each one that emerges needs to be crushed with maximum force – or, as the finale of Psychoville spectacularly demonstrated, exploded.

Many of those fleeing hurricanes in Florida and Texas over the last week will inevitably have more awareness of and engagement with the problem of the changing climate than the writer of this blog. Others will, like me, be aware of the basic facts and share in the generalised but rarely-acknowledged terror at what a righteously vengeful planet next has in store. But there are inevitably many of those currently witnessing the destruction of all they hold dear who have actively dedicated much of their time and energy over the last couple of decades abusing mass and digital communication media to spread disinformation with a view to ensuring that such catastrophes would both take place and be wholly unprepared for by states with the duty and means to protect their subject populations. Many of them will even have lent their support to corrupt and venal political demagogues who have built their careers and fortunes on the spreading of staggeringly irresponsible lies  which deny the present and future suffering of millions of fellow human beings.

Many of those victims happen to be poor, dark-skinned and far away. It’s by no means an accident that the kind of scum who marched straight from 4chan to Charlottesville a few weeks ago divide their online time fairly equally between scapegoating and ridiculing foreigners, threatening and bullying women who dare to speak freely and attempting to disrupt every single online conversation about how scientific findings account for extreme weather events. Climate denial is a key component of 21st century fascism, the formal and explicit imposition of elite power through violence. (Hurricanes are extremely violent events – no wonder the manchild Trump appears to revel in their power.) Just as when those who seek to gain power by means of violence are pushed back by any means necessary, when people who have inflated their egos, boosted their careers and augmented their Paypal balances by denying the experiences of climate refugees themselves become climate refugees, who can spare them any sympathy? Of all the tragedies to be visited on the US over these few weeks, maybe the greatest, or at least the most ironic, is that Hurricane Irma appears to be steering clear of Mar-a-lago. While some may be #prayingfortexas or #holdinghandsforflorida, I’m hoping that the next extreme weather event brings in its wake a tsumani of divine justice. In the meantime, perhaps a more appropriate nickname for a hurricane ripping apart the south-west corner of the United States would be simply #RickScott.

Tourism goes on as normal in Italy despite crippling drought

From the window of our Airbnb studio, we can see the wifi barge stationed down in the bay. There are apparently three such boats which arrive daily at different parts of the island and keep locals and visitors supplied with a continuous flow of pumped-in digital information.

It’s an emergency measure. According to Domenico, our host, there’s been no actual coverage for three months. I think he talked about the astronomical sum of 500,000 tonnes a year being consumed, peaking obviously in the summer, when the population of the island multiplies exponentially.

Tourists use huge amounts of wifi: to post and comment on photos on Facebook, access restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor and listen to listen to appropriately summery music on Spotify. That’s true not just for this island but for Capri, Ischia and countless other holiday destinations, which given how important tourism is to the Italian economy makes this nationwide drought of coverage particularly worrying. Luckily, in our case, Domenico has left a two-litre bottle of wifi in the fridge, and after its used up we resort to using our own supply, which we stock up on in the local shops.

Life seems to go on. Boats arrive, restaurants and cafes are busy, and everything seems more or less normal. But it’s hard to see how this set-up can be sustained. We depend on wifi in every single area of our lives, from transport to air conditioning systems to entertainment. Only the most adventurous of tourists would even dream of spending time in a place which survives on a life-support system. And as for the locals, they must be noticing the year-on-year decline in coverage, and wondering what the future has in store for their stunningly picturesque but informatically parched island. Could seawater somehow be transformed into Cloud-borne ones and zeros of a standard acceptable to international guests? What value does its abundance of natural beauty have if visitors can’t upload photos of it on Instagram? Could the recent dearth in coverage somehow be related to rumoured changes in the earth’s climate? If only they could get online consistently, they might be able to find the answers to these and other pressing questions. In the meantime, ensuring that tourists continue to have access to decent quality Netflix streaming services and more-than-sporadic Whatsapp voice and video calls conveying birthday greetings remains the number one municipal priority.

Waiting for impeachment is cowardice. Someone needs to act.

In how many Hollywood movies does a single individual sacrifice their life to save the world? Whether it’s Bruce Willis or some other aging but rugged hero, in death-embracing acts of individual self-martyrdom the protaganist beats both the ticking clock and the normal limits of human endurance in order to protect humanity from some (always externally-derived) threat. In the process the manifest destiny of the USA is reaffirmed, and all other citizens of the world, shown gathered in sports bars looking up anxiously at garbling and visibly perspiring news presenters, warming themselves around some squalid but spiritually-enriching campfire in the desert, or huddled in their third-world hovels around radios as they come to understand despite their obvious lack of education and pitiful absence of material means that once again thanks to the omnipotence and benevolence of the world’s only superpower the existential threat to our world has been averted.

Can the world wait for the criminally insane occupant of the Oval Office to be ‘impeached’? Should we cross our fingers and hope that somehow, one not too far-off day, through the time-honoured workings of the USA’s venerable democratic institutions as defined in its vaunted Constution, the balance shall be restored? I would say not. We’re beyond that point. Instead, some courageous and principled American citizen needs to act, some valient man or woman brought up saluting the Stars and Stripes and believing fervently in the shining ideals of democracy, justice and freedom, patriotically adept at handling a range of US-made firearms, must step up to the plate and prepare themselves to launch an almighty strike in response to the pitch that fate and history has thrown them, thus redeeming the American Project and saving the world once again, just like in the movies.

Donald Trump’s an alcoholic, isn’t he?

“Let’s see…I’ve still got some of that brandy the Saudis gave me…”

Election Night 2010 left me in a Very Bad Mood. Seeing the disaster that had befallen the country, with the Conservative Party and their eventual suitors the Liberal Democrats effectively wiping Labour off the board, knowing that in government David Cameron would very soon stop pretending he would be the “greenest ever” Prime Minister/friend-to-all-the-woodland-creatures and start gleefully ripping apart all that was most precious about British life, I changed my Facebook status to the (ahem) unambiguously jestful ‘I think I might kill myself’.

I should have included a link to something related to the election. When I turned on my phone the following morning around 7am my phone was buzzing like crazy with messages from concerned friends, family and acquaintances. Not nearly as many as I might have expected, but still.

I would never have done it had I been sober. Watching the results in the pub with fellow campaigners for our local far-left candidate had been a despondent affair. I guess I must have thrown caution to the wind and probably had six or seven pints to numb the disappointment and then a whisky or two (I hate whisky) to make the short walk home slightly more fun.

I’ve cut back in the last few years on what a friend calls ‘combat drinking’. Up to a certain age getting inappropriately drunk just for the hell of it ceased to be a permanently hilarious jape and started to look and feel like the sort of lifestyle trajectory that leads to sitting in church halls reminiscing about the nights you spent searching through bins just in case they contained a not-entirely-empty can of Strongbow.

Then, of course, there’s the danger inherent in being addled online. My previous blog died a slow, painful death after I got into the bad habit of sharing my late-night weed-fuelled mental meanderings with the world (or, at least, my website’s dwindling fanbase). I suspect that it may well be the eventual fate of pretty much all blogs to end up as a receptacle for posts whose contents are so unidentifiable that even people with 18 years of solid alcoholism behind them would think twice before imbibing them*.

Thankfully I never did any permanent damage, either to my liver (apparently) or to my reputation. I’m not remotely famous, so embarrassing myself online (as I may be doing right now) has never worried me unduly. I’d imagine that if I somehow found myself in a position of global responsibility it would be helpful to take the edge off with an occasional drink, and there is always the possibility that in these panoptical times that could lead to serious trouble.

Remarkable, then, that the most powerful person in the world has never even tasted alcohol and is apparently able to deal with the stresses of the job with nary a drop of inebriating liquid to help him come down from the inevitable highs and lows of adrenaline that the job entails. Curious, as Hasan Minhaj recently pointed out, that Trump’s barely coherent and often catastrophically unwise 3am tweets are written in a state of total lifelong sobriety.

How on earth is the President of the United States able to combine his laudable dedication to a teetotal lifestyle with the pressures inherent in a) his status of leader of the free world in a time of geopolitical chaos and b) his condition as a pathological liar?

Errrrrrr…

Cheers!

* I’m aware this is quite a confusing sentence, maybe I should have a drink and think about how to rephrase it.

NB: There’s also of course the possibility that Trump is a bit like Obelix, as in ‘Asterix &…’. Obelix fell into the pot of superstrength-granting magic potion as a child, and thus unlike his little moustachioed buddy never requires a top-up before going into battle. He does, however, need constant reminding of this fact, and given that Trump has no memory for anything but slights and grudges, it’s unlikely he’d be capable of remembering that he’s not actually supposed to drink. He may also just be a dry drunk. I don’t really care, I just hope that he gets to hear the malicious rumours that he’s an alcoholic and the resultant rage, shame and anguish cause him to suffer a massive heart attack and die. At this point we have to try everything – it’s him or the planet. Speaking of which, do you really think that someone prepared to lie about something as significant as Climate Change should be believed when he says he doesn’t drink?!

(Incidentally, no offense to actual alcoholics is intended in or by this article. Many of my closest friends are borderline alcoholics. For some reason.)

H.P. Lovecraft: Misanthropy and the Anthropocene

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The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

H.P. Lovecraft, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’

What would say H.P. Lovecraft say about climate change? His fanatical racism suggests that he would have found a great deal of common ground with Nigel Farage, Steve Bannon and countless others who have made a profession out of denying reality and scapegoating specific groups of human beings for its inconvenient incursions*. But Lovecraft would nonetheless have recognised (and, given his misanthropy, probably welcomed) the climatic transformation that is upon us, and (as the above quote suggests) would have understood our (lack of) reponse to it.

As it happens, he described the Age of the Anthropocene in (joyously unpleasant) detail:

Yet not at first were the great cities of the equator left to the spider and the scorpion. In the early years there were many who stayed on, devising curious shields and armours against the heat and the deadly dryness. These fearless souls, screening certain buildings against the encroaching sun, made miniature worlds of refuge wherein no protective armour was needed. They contrived marvellously ingenious things, so that for a while men persisted in the rusting towers, hoping thereby to cling to old lands till the searing should be over. For many would not believe what the astronomers said, and looked for a coming of the mild olden world again. But one day the men of Dath, from the new city of Niyara, made signals to Yuanario, their immemorially ancient capital, and gained no answer from the few who remained therein. And when explorers reached that millennial city of bridge-linked towers they found only silence. There was not even the horror of corruption, for the scavenger lizards had been swift.

Only then did the people fully realize that these cities were lost to them; know that they must forever abandon them to nature. The other colonists in the hot lands fled from their brave posts, and total silence reigned within the high basalt walls of a thousand empty towns. Of the dense throngs and multitudinous activities of the past, nothing finally remained. There now loomed against the rainless deserts only the blistered towers of vacant houses, factories, and structures of every sort, reflecting the sun’s dazzling radiance and parching in the more and more intolerable heat.

Typically in his stories, something terrible irrupts into our universe. Sometimes it is known by the name Cthulhu, described in ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ as “A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind”. It’s a non-human force, a possibly divine entity but one which is definitely not benign. Lovecraft drew on previous mythologies in creating his own. In inventing Cthulhu he was influenced by Tennyson’s poem ‘The Kracken‘**.

The first Lovecraftian stories I read were not actually by him, but by various writers about Lisbon. Their stories showed Lisbon as an emblematically Lovecraftian city, with its thousand-year history hiding all sorts of monsters. Some stories drew on the earthquake of 1788, with all that it drowned the city with and all that it buried. Lovecraft’s writing itself is extremely vivid and compelling. It lends itself particularly well to treatment by graphic novelists and is popular with creative misfits like Mark E. Smith of The Fall. The notoriously misanthropic French writer Michel Houllebecq wrote an excellent book on Lovecraft, a writer whose legacy is everpresent both in his work, while the current leading exponent and champion of Weird Fiction is China Miéville (who shares Houellebeqc’s assessment that racism is the driving force in Lovecraft’s fiction, the inspiration for his “poetic trance”).

Another fan was the critical theorist Mark Fisher (aka k-punk). In his final book (‘The Weird and the Eerie’) he writes of the ‘weird intrusion of the outside’ in Lovecraft’s fiction, the ‘traumatising ruptures in the fabric of experience itself’ occasioned by the appearance of phenomena ‘beyond our ordinary experience and conception of space and time itself’.

This echoed with something else I read recently: a book by the novelist and essayist Amitav Ghosh called ‘The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable’ (you can read an extract from it here). In it he argues convincingly that the modern novel is underpinned by a philosophy of gradualism. The novels of great authors such as Austen, Chatterjee and Flaubert are set in reduced and largely self-contained social worlds in which it is taken for granted that everyday life is largely predictable and ordered. The standard plot involves a disturbance from inside or outside in response to which the world of the novel reconfigures and resettles itself.

While in the time before the modern novel, popular texts such as ‘The Arabian Nights’ and ‘The Decameron‘ “proceeded by leaping blithely from one exceptional event to another”, when we enter the worlds depicted in realist fiction we are conditioned to regard sudden cataclysmic events as contrived and implausible. This is partly because the real subject of such novels is not so much the events themselves but rather the details and stylings of the bourgeois worlds that the characters inhabit. Thus miraculous and exceptional events which overturn that world do not get a look in.

We can also see something like this in the form of soap operas. In their later years domestic dramas such as ‘Brookside’ and ‘Emmerdale’ were regularly ridiculed for using such attention-grabbing contrivances as plane crashes, fires and terrorist attacks. Such intrusions breaks the rules of realist narrative, which say that this is a stable, self-centred and largely predictable world.

How would a soap opera set in the Phillipines deal with a hurricane like Haiyan? Such increasingly commmon catastrophes undermine the dependable world of the telenovela. An interesting example of a partly anthropocenic soap opera is ‘Jane the Virgin’, which regularly features extreme weather events in order to provide far-fetched plot twists, and which works because it’s a post-modern (as in tongue-in cheek and preposterous) pastiche of the format itself.

Soap operas and the modern novel dramatise everyday life in societies which are presented as essentially stable. They are not able to portray a world which is more vulnerable to sudden cataclysm and in which events cannot be explained without making explicit our dependence on other times and places. One thing that makes Lovecraft’s fiction so frightening and unusual is its depiction of non-human forces, intrusions which challenge our agency and control as a species, and consciousnesses with which we cannot communicate or negotiate.

Of course, with what is usually referred to as genre fiction – principally fantasy and science fiction – magical and miraculous elements occur. Long before Climate Change became public knowledge JG Ballard was speculating about what an overheating planet would be like in works like ‘Drowned World’ and ‘The Drought’. The main proponent of the mini-genre apparently known as ‘cli-fi’ is of course Margaret Atwood, who has used the conventions of Science Fiction to depict a climate-induced dystopia in ‘Oryx and Crake’, ‘The Year of the Flood’ and (although I haven’t read it yet) ‘MaddAdam’.

Then there is the genre of adventure fiction with its interest in time travel, including century-old classics by Jules Vernes and HG Wells. Such works particularly inspired children’s fiction which was often set in a unchanging world whose social forms were so static no one even grows old. Thomas Pynchon parodied this form in ‘Against the Day’, which does qualify as a climate change novel given that it features Lovecraftian passages such as this:

“We are here among you as seekers of refuge from our present—your future—a time of worldwide famine, exhausted fuel supplies, terminal poverty—the end of the capitalistic experiment. Once we came to understand the simple thermodynamic truth that Earth’s resources were limited, in fact soon to run out, the whole capitalist illusion fell to pieces. Those of us who spoke this truth aloud were denounced as heretics, as enemies of the prevailing economic faith. Like religious Dissenters of an earlier day, we were forced to migrate, with little choice but to set forth upon that dark fourth-dimensional Atlantic known as Time.”

Anthopocenic fiction will need to be considerably more radical than what still passes for fantasy. While it purports a world entirely other, ‘Lord of the Rings’ depicts a comforting world based on a conservative mythology. It may be that ‘Game of Thrones’ (which I’ve never seen) falls into the same category, in the sense that for all its shocking elements it conveys a fundamentally reactionary view of the universe, like an even more atavistic Downton Abbey. It may also be the case that the new form of soap opera which that programme belongs to – longform Netflix/Amazon dramas which develop over several dozen (or in some cases several hundred) hours – is able to accommodate new kinds and levels of human experience. Although I haven’t talked here about cinema (one film that bears repeated attention in this context is ‘Children of Men’), it seems clear to me that the worlds presented in dystopian Hollywood blockbusters such as ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Mad Max’ are not actually predictions but prescriptions of a future world which is short on resources but high on aggression and conflict. In the modern age it is partly through bigscreen fictions that we learn how to be human.

Will we (in the words of Lovecraft) “go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age”? The latter is what such films are selling. It’s no accident that the tropes they draw upon (dispensible peasants, bows and arrows, mortar and pestle) are largely medieval. Our cities already resemble those of the Middle Ages, with all their exclusions inscribed into both the visible and invisible frameworks.  Lovecraft’s misanthropy is as addictive and hugely entertaining as his racism is vile; let’s hope (no matter how horrifyingly compelling the phantasmagoric soap opera that is anthropocenic politics is) that atavistic tyrants such as Trump and Putin do not turn out to be the manifestations of Cthulhu in (barely) human form that they appear to be.

*This gave the title to one of China Miéville’s novels.

**Although relativising Lovecraft’s virulent racism appears to be a sub-hobby for a few of his fans, this is not an article about that subject. Please leave your comments requesting that his racism not be discussed at the end of this (excellent) piece instead.

Brexit and the Climate

The noted child psychologist and pediatrician Donald Winnicott wrote that the greatest danger to the child’s developing self is that it be faced with demands for precocious adaptation to the environment. The parents must protect the infant at all costs from aspects of reality that are incomprehensible or beyond its grasp, and gradually present the world in manageable doses.

On the 58th day of our daughter’s life, the US President signed an order which cancelled all the previous Government’s regulations regarding Climate Change. On the same day, several members of the British Parliament who had campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union walked out of a select committee meeting because the facts they were being presented with in relation to the consequences of Brexit were ‘too gloomy’.

I see that the top trending topics on social media right now are ‘Messi’, ‘Ken Barlow’ and something called ‘Skeletor and He Man’.

We’re going to have a hell of a job in a number of years trying to convince her that not all adults are completely fucking stupid.

Who can mark themselves safe from the changing climate?

It would be beyond absurd to vaingloriously demand that the alacrity and visceral passion with which people repond to random violent attacks on cities they live in or regularly visit were extended to every single news report involving human suffering. I myself, although I don’t live in London at present, pass through Westminster regularly and I also have dozens of friends and former colleagues who could easily have been amongst those murdered. But.

The near-total indifference on social media to stories like this never ceases to be maddening and dispiriting. Social media has, as so many have eloquently explored of late, a collective mechanism for hiding from that which makes us most uncomfortable and constructing an alternative, simpler reality.

I understand why people mark themselves safe, and am glad to see friends and acquaintances do so. But who can mark themselves safe from the climate? Maybe by avoiding sharing, liking and commenting upon such stories we believe at some level that we are making ourselves immune. What we haven’t seen can’t affect us. It’s not part of our world. And how could we not be immune, given that we don’t regard ourselves as responsible?

As for the number 1 Twitter hashtag (#prayforlondon), if only we could ‘pray’ for the stability of our climate, or at least for the courage to try to preserve that stability. To quote Soren Kierkegaard, “the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays”. If only we would bring ourselves to at least reflect on the facts presented to us by (in this case) reponsible journalists and eminently trustworthy scientists, we might start to understand the connection between the prevalence of infinitely more deadly (if not so telegenic and instantaneous) climate disasters and our own (abdicated and disavowed) responsibility to make lifestyle choices and political commitments which ensured that humanity as a whole could be marked safe.

Terrorism is the evocation of fear for political purposes. My terror is that we are as a species incapable of responding to knowledge of our impending self-annihilation. The political and social consequences of such awareness appear to be too serious and too massive for us to accept. In the words of Philip Larkin, this is a special way of being afraid.

Thus: what is indifference to climate change (mine, yours, all of ours) but another form of terrorism? One which becomes no less frightening or threatening by virtue of our incessant muting and unfollowing of our knowledge of it? The fear just expresses itself in other ways. That, to me, is the main reason we are nowadays so given over to anger at others. It is an expression of frustration at our collective impotence, and as such it is the perfect fuel for fascism.

What’s the alternative? Start by reading this, and then post it all over your social media outlets.