IN the Pink Panther films, Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau employs Cato, a Chinese retainer, to attack him when his guard is down to hone his martial skills and improve his vigilance. Perhaps drawing on this, in the 1983 Bill Forsyth film Local Hero, the multi-millionaire Texan oil baron, Felix Happer, played by Burt Lancaster, pays a psychiatrist called Moritz to pop up Cato-like to deal foul-mouthed abuse to him as an antidote to the obsequiousness that he is accustomed to from his flunkeys. Happer blights landscapes with his oil refineries and the film deals with his latest project, the acquisition and despoiling of a beautiful Scottish fishing village. In an unholy financial bargain reminiscent of the Renaissance practice of buying indulgences, Moritz plays an important expiatory role for Happer which allows him to continue his nefarious activities while feeling relatively blameless. He simply farms out his conscience to an atoning surrogate.
Most of us care about the environment and the planet and think that careful stewardship of it is appropriate. Because of this, browbeaten by the media, we are tempted to share a vague Happer-like guilt about the supposed climate ‘emergency’ though some of us feel far from competent to pass judgment in the face of the scientific complexity and multitude of factors in play. We try to pay our dues and show willing by recycling the odd cardboard box, using less plastic and buying the ‘right’ kind of car, while remaining somewhat sceptical.
We know that there are reputable climate experts who say the opposite from those sounding daily alarm bells. We find it easy to understand how James Delingpole’s ‘heroic’ capitalism-bashing Watermelon theory might explain a lot of the fuss. This being the case, the brave adult response is to demand a winding-down of the hysteria while the problem, if there is one, is got into proper perspective and scientific debate allowed to proceed uncensored.
The real problem is, however, is the deficit of moral courage and adult responsibility in modern infantilised society. The tempting alternative to speaking out for reason is to simply sell the pass to the hysterical pundits, buy into the self-loathing failure of mankind theories and pass off cowardice as the virtue of humility.
Most follow this course, largely for fear of being ‘on the wrong side of history. For them, Greta Thunberg plays a vital role.
She is Jeremiah to our feckless Israelites. In her speech at the UN recently she duly fulminated with the assumed authority of an enraged biblical prophetess. Adult delegates sat with their heads bowed, lapping up the lecture and their punishment and applauding politely. They were doing a public penance which they hoped would somehow exonerate them from their climate sins. Like Felix Happer with Mortiz, the more Greta flagellates them the more purified they feel.
Watching this spectacle from the sidelines, we see Greta narrowing her eyes threateningly and engaging in contortions and hyperbole such as ‘Entire eco-systems are collapsing!’ and ‘you are still not mature enough . . .’ We see the normal adult-child dynamics embarrassingly reversed as cowardly adults allow themselves to be castigated by a little girl. She berates them for their failure on the climate while their real failure is in sloughing off to her the proper, assertive, adult control of a challenging situation. As a result she does this parody of adult disapprobation. In addition we see her glaring, motionless, at Donald Trump as he unknowingly walks past her, resembling nothing short of an admonitory supernatural nemesis. Her glare legitimises violent hatred towards this one-man receptacle for all climate blame who so signally fails to sing from her orthodox hymn sheet.
Schooled by her adult handlers, there is a cynical knowingness about her performance as she hits all the right guilt buttons to the pleasure of the masochists arrayed before her. This might remind one of the shady green energy cabal behind her and her parents and of the noir underbelly of Scandinavia from which, in the last decade or so, its writers have made such capital.
The spectacle at the UN tells us a great deal about a modern world where adults have abdicated moral responsibility in favour of periodic chastisement by a sadly angst-ridden child in a priestly role that allows them to go about their business unhindered by guilt. Our society is in a very dangerous place if adults don’t want to run things.