I have little doubt that a dozen-million people across the world joined in tears of shared grief and anger last night. The video of Greta Thunberg shouting at the assembled United Nations, crying out “how dare you”, red-faced and tearful, her young face full of forceful admonition, has been shared and re-shared towards infinity on-line.
The machismo-charged male-supremacist right-wing commentators were quick to dismiss the over-emotionality of this girl-child. And in any case, she has, they suggest, a mental health condition. Consequently, there was little mainstream coverage of what she said, just how she said it.
The published photos of her glaring in anger at President Trump as he walked past her without acknowledgement were designed more to portray his power than hers. Trump later tweeted, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” It’s called “taking the piss”.
Trump has shown him himself so many times to shed no tears for human suffering, and sees crying as a weakness rather than a re-energising release essential for survival. He considers children to be without understanding and therefore to be told and controlled, and women to be, in any case, too emotional to make the difficult decisions. And his type rule the world.
For those of us – we, the many – who are clear about the threat of catastrophe and extinction, it is vital we act as our own media, manage our own communication, and keep getting the message out “from below”:
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
Here, she emphasised the climate science, the incredible speed of species extinction and the loss of human habitats alongside the animals. But this was an attack on the System without calling it out. Indeed, Greta offered an olive branch:
“You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.”
Sorry Greta, I don’t. In an apparently unconnected report published yesterday, equally naive in it’s observations, it was reported that the richest 5-10% of the global population share an all-but total lack of social obligation and an ignorance of the most simple realities of human life. In short, they don’t care about the poorest 90% of the world’s population even if they have ever casually glanced our way.
I am reminded of a much earlier report from the Joseph Rowntree Trust, which used an analogy to portray the results of a discursive inquiry where children from the entire span of social classes and conditions were interviewed. They concluded that, if you perceived the richest child to stand at the North Pole and the poorest at the South Pole, and then looked at the lives of those at the two tropics – Capricorn and Cancer – the children there experience no shared social characteristics.
Even the moderately rich and moderately poor live to very separate cultural norms, speak impenetrably different languages, conceive of the world in thoroughly separate ways and, of course, share no possible life-chances and outcomes (peers will even die 20 years or more apart).
The rich live in a wholly different World from the poor. This is a cultural apartheid maintained by income and spending power. Capitalism has not only caused a metabolic rift between humanity and the natural world, it has created an emotional rift, nay gulf, that cannot be crossed. Humanity has been torn apart.
If it were the case that Greta Thunberg was calling upon the good will and empathy of the rich and powerful to do right by the poor, she’s championing a hopeless cause. I suspect she knows. Her speech contained a veiled threat:
“You are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”
Thunberg and groups like Extinction Rebellion hold a position that says we are not responsible for determining exactly how to prevent the catastrophe, we are simply going to act to ensure those with the power and wealth in society stand-up and take the action required. In essence, they are not evil, just complacent. They must be convinced.
I am convinced this will never happen. The ruling class may or may not be Evil (I find the term metaphysical and undefinable). In the material world of human society, it is the system of Capitalism that causes the alienation, competition and class warfare that damns both the environment and the People.
To that extent, Greta missed the point. It is the System that needs to be called-out and replaced, not just those who manage it.
Tuesday 24th September 2019