I’VE been zooming about like a rocket: on-screen life-drawing, church and neighbour meetings, and as like many middle-class women I’d like to save the rainforest, when I saw a Zoom group offering discussion on how to ’make a difference’ to the planet, I decided to join in. The host was a woman about to get her PhD from a respectable university with a thesis on ‘The effect of climate change on the emotions’.
In a nearly half-hour speech she didn’t offer a single fact, instead asserting that the public are not involved with fighting climate change ‘because of their grief’.
‘Yeh,’ she said. ‘Grief about climate change reminds them of other griefs, so they can’t face it.’
After research with ‘Green’ groups she aims to overcome this sorrow through ‘grief tending,’ ‘co-counselling’ and ‘Buddhist and mindfulness practices.’ The Buddhism was described with the platitude of changing oneself to change the world.
She urged us to consider our duty for ‘owning and honouring the pain of the world’ so that we could all ‘alchemise that sense of loss into passion and deep determination’.
We were also warned against the perils of ‘burn-out.’ Apparently, that happens if you get too determined in your commitment to ‘trauma-informed practices’ such as climate action.
‘Yeh, there is a real need for safety when you explore climate change,’ she told us, nothing to do with the Yanomami tribe being murdered by the Brazilian government in its drive to tear up the rainforest for mining and cattle farming, but about ‘being kind to yourself’, coping with the way you may feel when you start thinking how thinking about climate change makes you feel.
Were we listening to sociology, psychology? Surprisingly, she said it was ‘human geography.’ Boring old geog, where we learned about rivers, towns and coastal erosion, once taught by men with leather arm-patches and egg-stained ties, has been eroded itself.
In school and university, regional geography has been replaced by emotive ‘critical’ or ‘radical’ geography, even ‘feminist’ and ‘cultural’ geography, aiming to provide explanations studied without detachment and objectivity, rather than factual descriptions which have now been ‘critiqued’ as ‘a tool of capital’.
Touchy-feely and kind they may be, but these geographers have an agenda. The soon-to-be doctor believes that there are not a lot of Greta Thunbergs about, not because of class, poor education or different political views, but because ‘no one has enough collective agency’.
Our group agreed that ‘our whole system’ has to change, firstly to end confrontational parliamentary debate. No more shouting. Instead, members of Parliament should be using ‘mindfulness’ in the chamber.
These ideas seemed to me as useful as putting on a cardigan for world peace. But sadly the campaign to save the planet is dominated by the Left and this new culture where objectivity has been replaced by emotion.
‘This is a very dangerous situation,’ said a young woman on Radio 4 this week. Was she speaking about UK care homes, imminent catastrophic recession or mining in the Brazilian rainforest? No.
‘People can no longer hug each other,’ she warned grimly, believing that an essential mechanism for our survival has been stripped away by ‘social distancing’. This was followed by another report about the soothing hymn, Abide with Me. We were told of its importance at cup finals because singing it has always been ‘the only way that working-class men could show emotion, hug and touch each other’, as they were obviously desperate to do.
Showing emotion as an act of respectability first emerged with the death of Princess Diana. Suddenly it was not just good to blub, it was obligatory if you were a decent person. It’s now de rigueur to well up. Interviews with public figures usually have that little pause where the interviewee says ‘Excuse me. Sorry,’ before pressing on through tears. Even humbug-hating Boris Johnson did this recently, describing his struggle in hospital. In public life only the Queen has held on to her stiff upper lip, letting it wobble only in 1994 when she lost the Royal Yacht Britannia.
To object to this is as taboo as calling someone a foreigner; it just ain’t done any more. Belief in the morality of showing emotion has now invaded almost every area of our lives and must be one of the biggest cultural changes in the last 50 years. We now have a drug culture and the hug culture; if people are not weeping, clapping or singing together there must be something wrong with them. The BBC has initiated a national movement with more than a hundred musicians to encourage people to ‘get creative’, not to perform exquisite music but to get everyone in the country to sing You Got the Love, a 1986 disco hit.
There is no area free of this. In the arts it’s called inclusiveness and collaboration, both widely applauded as female characteristics. There are no more lonely artists in garrets pursuing an individual vision, their work will win applause and funding only if it’s demonstrably collaborative; one of the virtues cited for sending Sonia Boyce to last year’s Venice Biennale. Anyone entering art school must show the collaborative nature of their work. Rodin used to hug his models – these days he’d be restricted to kissing other sculptors.
This article first appeared in the Salisbury Review