Individualism is not Extremist, Nationalism is not Racist

Writing in the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty claims that After Covid, the climate crisis will be the next thing the right says we ‘just have to live with’. He then goes on to attack individualism, something valued by leftist anarchists and centrist libertarians as much or more that it is by the ‘right’.

Soon, a few of the more shameless newspaper commentators will urge the rest of us to “learn to live” with climate breakdown. Soon, a couple of especially sharp-elbowed cabinet ministers will sigh to the Spectator that, yes, carbon emissions should ideally be slashed – but we must make a trade-off between “lives and livelihoods”. Soon, a little platoon of Tory backbenchers will respond to TV pictures of another devastating flash flood or deadly heatwave by complaining about “fearmongering”. “Why is the BBC so doomy?” they’ll ask, as the death toll rises.

Governments are investing in adaptation to climate change. Some level of “learning to live” with climate change is essential, as the CO2 we’ve already emitted and the minimal amount we will continue to emit, assuming we don’t want to trigger a collapse, will lead to some warming. Claiming that every example of severe weather is due to climate change is fearmongering. Like most things, extreme weather has are many causes. For example, for years the media claimed that climate change was causing hurricanes to worsen, when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found no significant evidence. Even now, the latest study by the NOAA only shows a tiny correlation between climate change and the number and severity of hurricanes.

Soon, shockingly soon, the cheap shots, the brazen stat-bending and the coprophagic cynicism that have warped British discourse since March 2020 will migrate from Covid to an even bigger and more lethal crisis: the climate emergency. And just as they have helped shape the self-inflicted catastrophe that England has embarked upon this week, so they will work their terrible influence on that one.

That a journalist would have the balls to talk about stat-bending, given the example I just gave, is brazen. The so called ‘climate emergency’ is not a lethal crisis. As I showed in Communism Won’t Solve the Problems of Global Warming, in Canada, 9 times as many people currently die due to cold weather than to hot, so for us, global warming will likely lead to fewer climate related deaths.

Scientists and politicians the world over have noted the strong similarities between coronavirus and climate breakdown. In papers and speeches, they have drawn lessons about some of the best ways to handle both: go early, go big, and don’t pretend you can strike some special deal with a lethal force. The UK’s week-long delay in locking down in March 2020 led to about 20,000 deaths, estimates Neil Ferguson.

All the measures taken against the coronavirus were merely to attempt to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients. The only things that could change the number of deaths in the long term were treatments and vaccines. While the lockdowns may have bought slightly more time for those to be developed, don’t pretend that they didn’t come at a cost to liberty, people’s livelihoods, and our mental health.

Every year wasted in reducing carbon emissions pushes us further into extreme weather, environmental destruction and the loss of human and animal lives. These lessons appeared to have been fully imbibed by Boris Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, when they vowed last March to do “whatever it takes” to tackle the pandemic.

Climate change can’t be prevented by a vaccine. Reducing carbon emissions is difficult, and doing it wrong could do tremendous damage, just as a bad vaccine could.

Goodbye to all that. Starting this week, our prime minister is no longer even pretending to keep down infections in England; instead, he is allowing more people to catch the disease, hospitals to drown amid case numbers, and thousands more Britons to die. That scenario isn’t drawn from the government’s critics: it is the one publicly accepted by Whitehall. It is less a policy than a white flag.

BC is also lifting restrictions. While cases are rising, the provincial health officer has wisely called attention to the fact that a very low percentage of them are in the fully vaccinated. Why should those who have taken the trouble to get the vaccine or are willing to risk going without be locked down? To suggest that this is a white flag policy is shameful.

The UK was the first country to start vaccinations. Is the Oxford vaccine that poor at preventing Covid-19? While our cases are up, our hospitals are nowhere near as full as they were early in the year. Cases among the vaccinated are typically mild and don’t require hospitalization.

Even as global health experts unite in condemning the UK as a “threat to the world”, Johnson merely shrugs and asks: “If not now, when?” It is an artless, shortsighted phrase that will come back to haunt him, that will be flung in his face at future press conferences and resurface whenever that public inquiry finally begins.

He’s right though. You cannot keep hurting people forever by keeping business shuttered. At some point, the ‘cure’ of lockdowns is worse than the disease.

As ever with anything involving this prime minister, the fatal farce of “freedom day” will be refracted through a thousand talk-radio discussions about Johnson’s fitness to govern. But the Tory leader is surfing a wave far bigger than himself. Riding forces larger than himself is what Johnson has done throughout his career, and it is what makes him such an effective political campaigner. It is also what should make us worry about the terrain on which future political battles will be fought.

And the people who just wanted to be able to see friends and families again will remember that Johnson was mocked for letting them do so.

What he has correctly identified is a growing extremist individualism. It is an ideology that claims to be about freedom when really it means selfishness; and it sees any curtailment of its liberties, no matter how justified or temporary, as Stalin sending in the tanks.

Individualism is now extremist? Give me a break. Curtailing the right to assembly and free association is authoritarian. You may not have sent in tanks, but I’ve seen videos from Ireland and Australia where men with guns came, kicked in doors, and took away citizens for the crime of being in their own homes. Disgusting!

Last weekend, the chair of the Tory 1922 backbench committee, Graham Brady, claimed that face masks were really about social control. Railing at voters for meekly accepting a measure designed to reduce the spread of infection, he accused them of suffering from Stockholm syndrome. “The line between coercion and care becomes blurred, the hostage starts to see the man with the AK-47 who holds him in a cell not as a jailer but as a protector.”

At a certain point, he is right. I’ve seen many people outside or in cars alone wearing masks. Who are they protecting? Now that our mask mandate has ended, many people go without, but many continue to wear them indoors. Good for them, they may be doing some good in case they are infected with coronavirus or the flu. But at some point, don’t you want to see other people’s faces again, and be able to talk without having to repeat every other sentence?

Selfishness is hardly a new characteristic of our politics. But what is striking today is how the politicians and commentators using it sneer at those who stand in their way. There is a cruelty to this politics that is breathtaking. The rightwing commentator Douglas Murray complained in the Sun on Sunday of Britons’ “terrible fearfulness”. He didn’t trace this to the fact that the country is mourning more than 150,000 Covid deaths.

Having had a close family member die of Covid, it is hard. But life must go on. Once the bombing stops, you can’t stay in the bomb shelter forever.

Before Covid came along, Murray had a line in rubbishing activists who have the gall to sound the alarm on the climate crisis. A “fringe eco-lobby”, he declared in the Daily Mail, was committing “an abuse of children on a massive and unforgivable scale” by making them fearful of the future.

And this is true. The environmental activists use hyperbole all the time. Telling children that the world is going to end in twelve years is irresponsible and evil.

The Covid deniers are, as often as not, also the climate deniers; who are – wouldn’t you know it? – the most extreme Brexiters. Earlier this year, Steve Baker, the MP who calls himself the “hardman of Brexit” (which does admittedly sound better than his real title of “former software consultant”), joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an organisation that claims to speak “common sense on climate change”. Its honorary president is the climate-change denier Nigel Lawson. The carousel goes round and round, but the faces on it never seem to change.

So the same people who want common sense on climate are for autonomy from the non-elected autocracy in Brussels? That makes sense. The sad thing is, those who don’t preach the climate emergency doctrine line and verse are smeared as climate change deniers. This means the smear loses all credibility. For example, though I disagree with some of his ideas, Douglas Murray is not an idiot. Calling him ‘cruel’ and ‘selfish’ doesn’t prove your point, it makes you look like a zealot.

Lawson, as Margaret Thatcher’s chancellor, played a vital role in breaking the social contract that had underpinned postwar Britain, on everything from welfare to pay to pensions. What his successors are now doing is trying to dismantle what’s left of the ethical contract Britons still hold with each other. If they succeed, the politics of extreme individualism will make impossible the collective response essential to tackle social crises, from Covid to social care to climate.

When you smear individualists as extremists, don’t be surprised when they don’t listen to your ideas about medicine, social care, and the environment. As I said at the outset, there are many individualists among the left and the center. They can be allies if they are convinced of your proposals, but if you lead them to water by force, you will never make them drink.

In his new book, Go Big, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband writes: “If we treat the climate crisis as a technical fix or technological problem to be solved and think we can do so while leaving other injustices in place … we will fail.” He is right. On climate, nearly every techno-fix has remained a money-sucking mirage, as with carbon capture and storage.

Is he right? What ‘injustices’ is he referring to? Tying unrelated issue together is not a good idea. It makes you look like your pushing an agenda. This is why people don’t trust politicians. Of course capture has been a dud: it costs money and adds no benefit to the consumer. The only way CO2 capture will be done is by government fiat. The technology is currently too expensive and would cause massive surges in the cost of fuel. Any government that caused these would be voted out post haste in the next election.

But that is exactly how the new right has dealt with the pandemic. Johnson’s government didn’t even attempt a strategy of zero Covid – instead it spent the thick end of a billion quid on making sure Nando’s was half-price for the summer. And it got lucky: Covid vaccines were in production within months.

It’s easy to say someone ‘got lucky’. But luck favors the bold.

Restoring our lives to normality after Covid is not the solution, it’s the problem.

And you wonder why Brady thinks you have Stockholm syndrome? This statement makes you sound insane.

And each time, cooperation is just dismissed as political impossibilism. Even when politicians nod their heads while scientists urge that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”, nothing happens.

It is impossible to make everyone safe. Not just politically. People die in lock down. Deaths due to drug overdoses have increased massively. How will the scientists make sure these people are safe? Or do they not count?

While nearly 70% of adult Britons have now been double-jabbed, only 1% of people in low-income countries have received even one dose. While the home secretary, Priti Patel, was cheering on England in the Euro finals, Ugandans in her parents’ former home of Kampala were turning their equivalent of Wembley stadium into a Covid hospital.

And that means no one outside Uganda is allowed to take any enjoyment in life?

This smirking ignorance is possible for as long as those people who die, whether of Covid or climate breakdown, are brown or black or poor. But even the likes of Murray and Baker and Lawson can’t rely on that. Not when a flood can burst into a German care home and drown the residents. Not when a wildfire can consume one of the richest provinces in America and the world. Some bunkers you just can’t buy.

Wanting to take care of your own before worrying about those living in other countries is natural. Until every Canadian is vaccinated, I don’t think our government should be shipping vaccines abroad. Nationalism is not racism.

You can’t control climate. We can take measures to try to lessen our impact on it. The earth’s climate has been fluctuating for billions of years. While we have the ability to make those changes at a never before seen pace, and natural climate change has caused massive extinction events in the past, and that should give us pause, thinking that we can simply turn off CO2 emissions without doing terrible harm is simplistic.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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