Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
It’s funny how the weeks fly by. It’s as if the entire planet is being fuelled by weeks, and years, and decades, and moments, just flying by. Unless the planet is going so fast that we don’t notice, and it’s time itself that gets stripped off by the wind of our passing. I imagine someone clinging to a radio aerial in flimsy clothes, which are gradually ripped and torn, like a flag in some long-forgotten army outpost, hanging by a thread or two.
If this idea was true, time would appear to go faster in good weather, because we wear less in the summer. So the winds of time wouldn’t have to blow for so long to whirl the shreds of threads away. And there would have to be somewhere where all the bits of clothing end up, like the plastic in the oceans, collecting in vast floating masses that trap and kill innocent wildlife as cleverly as those jellyfish and other amazing animals we see every week on Blue Planet 2.
One of the last survivors of some practically-extinct species
The other thing that occurs to me is the extraordinary genius of life on this planet to hide itself in plain sight, and to kill and eat its prey with ruthless and unthinking abandon. We do the same thing, over-fishing and shooting and trapping, and generally causing destructive mayhem with no thought for the future or respect for those species that we like to eat. There are apparently queues of people from the good old United States, who are queueing up urgently to bag themselves one of the last survivors of some practically-extinct species because they’re worried they might be banned from killing any, or someone else might kill the last rhino, or elephant, or tiger.
What a tragedy it would be for the wrong person to kill the last tiger! And there are those poachers who supply the Chinese market with Rhino horn, who are pleased that it’s becoming rarer, because the price keeps going up. I wonder how much sleep they lose at the thought of the market disappearing because there aren’t any more Rhinos. I can imagine them arriving at the local version of the Job Centre, complaining that their jobs have disappeared, and trying to wangle some benefits. Like it wasn’t their fault. I imagine the lost species, no longer having anyone to request benefits for them.
Irony in ivory
It seems like only yesterday when we first noticed that the numbers of so many species were on the decline. Up to that moment we had behaved with wilful ignorance and a complete lack of care. Even when the crisis was revealed, many individuals and countries protested at the unfairness of everyone else in ganging up on them to protect the whales and lions and pandas. There are still several countries who continue to lobby for whaling to return, and to allow ivory to be sold openly, and they seem to see no irony at all about this. They stand up and make speeches, filled with heartbreak and incredulity about the unfairness of others, just as dictators and despots are horrified that anyone should point their fingers at their cruelty and genocide.
We’re good at this kind of behaviour, and it speaks to me of our failure to deal with the concept of bullying right from its beginnings. Everyone knows that bullies work tirelessly to claim their innocence, and they believe they get away with making up excuses and pressuring others to make up false alibis and reasonings for their behaviour. They feel that getting away with it is their right, and they congratulate themselves for escaping punishment by whatever authorities they’re undermining. And they never learn, and they never stop.
Saving jobs, or, more specifically, saving votes
We’re not very good at standing up to bullies. Sometimes we decide we actually profit from their actions, as in handing enormous amounts of weaponry to the Saudis so they can bomb the Yemeni population back to the Stone Age, and then we complain that nobody is putting enough pressure on the Saudis to allow aid to be distributed. Cabinet Ministers will talk endlessly about the need for us to have a thriving arms industry, and denying that we’re doing anything wrong by selling arms to people who shouldn’t be allowed to own peashooters, let alone sophisticated smart bombs. We justify all of this by talking about saving jobs, or, more specifically, saving votes. Nobody seems to want to talk about putting some of that investment into building factories that make something useful and profitable instead.
I’m not sure why our politicians are so unwilling to behave in ethical ways, and then duck and dodge in an embarrassingly unpleasant way, to try to save their faces and pull the wool over the eyes of the people. Some think there’s a huge conspiracy out there, involving super-rich people who control everything and spend vast sums making sure that the hands of politicians and civil servants are tied in such a way that they’ll do what they’re told. I incline to the idea that everyone who has ambitions has a price. They reach a moment where they can’t compromise any more, and they stop at that level of power, while others with smaller consciences climb past them.
Most politicians start out wanting to do good
I’m uncomfortable with the idea that you can only become very powerful in our society if you’re capable of relinquishing all of your principles in order to get to the top and stay there. That makes them unpleasantly similar to outright despots, and the difference lies in the length of time they’re allowed to stay at the top, and what they’re allowed to get away with. At least in democracies there’s a requirement for them to stay within the rules of law, or to cover their tracks if they don’t. I think this a shame, because I believe that most politicians start out wanting to do good, and that means they mostly start compromising and slide down or up the greasy pole as a result of their ability to be ruthless.
I’d much rather live in a country within a system that encourages people to act according to their beliefs, rather than their desire to climb on the heads of others. I want to be able to look up to leaders, rather than expect them to behave without honour or conscience. I’d like them to have the strength to stay honest, whatever the pressure on them.
Stopping bullies in the playground
I’m also feeling very uncomfortable about a lot of the recent news about the abuses perpetrated by powerful people on the young or weak. I’m also bothered by a lot of double standards. We’re obsessed by people like Harvey Weinstein, and we’re using that stick to beat anyone suspected of similar activities. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, by the way, and finding them and punishing them is almost as good as stopping them before they get going, but that would be too much trouble, it seems. Like stopping bullies in the playground, rather than waiting until they have established a criminal or business empire and affected the lives of countless people. We’re not standing up to Trump, for instance, in a very worrying way.
I feel the same about tyrants, who get to the top in exactly the same way that bullies do in playgrounds, and they thrive when people become too scared to speak up. The people who don’t blow the whistle need to do more before it’s too late. I think it’s our responsibility to stop things going bad, rather than shouting after it goes wrong. For instance, we allowed a whole series of changes and cuts and faces being turned way over many years, and then we were surprised when the Grenfell Tower burned down and so many lives were lost.
After they had been allowed to become crises
There are so many crises out there at the moment, in almost every area of life, and each of them has been allowed to become a crisis because we’ve failed or refused to take remedial action, and that troubles me. At the same time we’re not doing a proper job of changing the systems and turning them round. I’m no fan of the Victorians, but I give them credit for introducing extraordinary measures to correct the terrible conditions they had ignored for so long. Clearing the slums and building drains and ensuring clean water and making sure children received an education were amazing feats, but they were only introduced after they had been allowed to become crises that induced national shame.
At the end of the Second World War, the new government introduced a huge programme of reforms, like the NHS and expanded educations, and the welfare state was supposed to protect every single person in this country. We’ve forgotten how lucky we are to have these things, and a lot of people want to tear it all down. There are many politicians conspiring right now to sell all of this to companies, who will continue to add to the misery of those who used to be cared for by the blanket of the welfare state, and things will get considerably worse for everyone if that happens. We all know this, but too many of us are in denial of that. I don’t know why we do that. It can’t just be laziness.
We’re ignoring the lessons we thought we had learned
All you have to do is look up, and you can see the same sorts of crises happening on a larger scale all over the world. The environment, the crises in so many species, the rise of extremism, the gradual breakdown of the belief that people will be looked after and cared for, is leading to a lot of anger and frustration that’s leading to the rise in extreme politics, and we’re heading toward a breakdown in the system of checks and balances that should allow our behaviour on this planet to be managed rather than running riot. We had two world wars in the last century. Very few people are still alive who could explain to us what that meant, and we’re ignoring the lessons we thought we had learned.
I rather like watching sleeping sperm whales hanging in the water of the oceans. I know that they can do that because they were saved from extinction by an international group of countries using their brains and their consciences to end the whaling and allow them to live in peace. I would hate to realise how important all those other species used to be only after they’re gone. And I’m thinking of the ice caps and the world’s resources as well as our ability to survive despite our own worst behaviour as well here.
Who’s going to mourn our passing when we’re all gone?
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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